LOS ANGELES -- The Los Angeles Clippers have notoriously struggled with early-afternoon games against inferior opponents at Staples Center the past couple of seasons.
With that in mind, coach Doc Rivers warned that he felt the Clippers would be at a disadvantage heading into Saturday’s 12:30 p.m. tilt with the Sacramento Kings.
“I always actually thought that visiting teams had the advantage in afternoon games because it takes the home team out of their norm,” Rivers said prior to the game. “The visiting team is already out of their norm -- they’re on the road. So I’ve always felt that way.”
After blowing a 20-point first-half lead, the Clippers found themselves with their backs against the wall.
They had no discernible answer for DeMarcus Cousins' dominant post play (23 points, 19 rebounds and seven assists) and Isaiah Thomas' crafty penetration out of pick-and-rolls (22 points, five assists) throughout the second half, and their once-scorching shooting had considerably cooled off.
Enter Chris Paul, the closer.
Paul scored six points in the final 1:29 -- including the game-clinching free throw with two seconds left -- to erase the Kings’ three-point lead. Sacramento had one last chance to win the game, but Cousins’ contested 16-foot jumper fell short and the Clippers prevailed 103-102.
How it happened: L.A. raced out to a 16-point lead in the first quarter and led by as many as 20 points in the first half before the Kings rallied midway through the second quarter to cut the deficit to nine at halftime. The Cousins-led comeback continued in the second half -- with the Kings actually taking a five-point lead -- but Paul’s clutch performance saved the Clippers for the second time in three games.
What it means: The Clippers’ search for a consistent 48 minutes continues. They once again played down to the level of their competition and were lackadaisical and incoherent defensively in the second half. On a positive note, Rivers spoke before the game about the Clippers' needing to be able to get stops at crucial junctures of close games, and their defense delivered Saturday by clamping down on the Kings in the final two minutes.
Hits: Paul fell one assist shy of continuing his double-double streak, but he had 22 points, nine assists and six rebounds.
While Blake Griffin's shot wasn’t falling (3-of-10 from the floor), he still found a way to be effective, going 9-of-13 from the free throw line, grabbing 10 rebounds and dishing out four assists.
The Clippers were 11-of-25 from beyond the arc (44 percent).
Misses: Cousins dominated DeAndre Jordan and the rest of the Clippers' big men inside, as he has done the past few times the teams have met. Griffin had more turnovers (six) than field goals (three).
Stat of the game: For the second straight outing, the Clippers were dominated in points in the paint, 46-30.
Up next: The Clippers host the Chicago Bulls (6-5) on Sunday afternoon. The Bulls will be without superstar point guard Derrick Rose, who suffered a medial meniscus tear in his right knee against the Portland Trail Blazers Friday night and will need surgery.