LOS ANGELES -- After the final buzzer sounded and the LA Clippers had pulled off an improbable 22-point comeback against the Golden State Warriors for a much-needed win, Paul George walked off the floor with a clenched fist before embracing Kawhi Leonard and James Harden.
George's shot gave the Clippers (9-10) their only lead of the game. A Warriors team playing without the injured Andrew Wiggins, Chris Paul and Gary Payton II led 70-48 with 11:45 left in the third quarter but were outscored 65-42 the rest of the way.
"This was a gutsy win for us," Clippers coach Ty Lue said. "We needed to win like this just to keep fighting, keep scraping, keep competing and winning a big game like this."
The Clippers, who have endured growing pains since they traded for Harden on Oct. 30, were staring at the possibility of losing two straight to the Warriors after falling in San Francisco on Thursday. It would have been a frustrating end to a week that started with them losing at home Monday to a Denver Nuggets team without Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murray and Aaron Gordon.
Instead, the Clippers somehow held Golden State to 20 fourth-quarter points. After watching Draymond Green bury four 3-pointers in the first quarter, the Clippers held Golden State to 5-of-21 shooting from deep in the second half to collect their biggest win of the season.
Harden (21 points, 9 assists) thought the Clippers trailed by as much as 18 before he was corrected after the game.
"Wow, 22," he said when told of the second-half deficit. "... We don't want to keep going up and down. We want to be consistent.
"I told [George] and [Leonard] before the game, 'Let's catch our rhythm. Let's be good, like we're going to be later in the season. Let's start it now.'"
The Clippers haven't had an easy time meshing Leonard, George, Harden and Russell Westbrook. Lue initially started all four before Westbrook moved to the second unit in an effort to help ease the transition.
All four stars have tried sacrificing and deferring to one another as the Clippers offense has looked stagnant and passive at times. But during a 131-117 win at Sacramento on Wednesday, the Clippers looked dominant with Leonard, Harden and George taking turns putting pressure on the defense while Westbrook provided energy, hustle, passing and rebounding off the bench.
Lue called that victory the blueprint for how they need to play on both ends, only to watch them fall at Golden State the next night.
Before the Clippers could get even Saturday, they still had to watch Stephen Curry (22 points, 11 assists) drive the lane in the final seconds. With Leonard guarding Curry and Westbrook standing on the baseline under the basket to help, Curry passed to Green in the left corner. But Green missed a 3-pointer as Westbrook quickly recovered to contest the shot, allowing George (25 points) and the Clippers to celebrate.
"It's big," Leonard said of the victory. "We've been trying to be consistent. We are getting better, but very slow. ... You know, how things been going, it feels great to pull out a win."
Lue said he hopes it can propel the Clippers to more wins and up the Western Conference standings. He admitted the process of integrating Harden and finding the right balance between his four stars has been very difficult.
"It's going to be hard, and it's going to be tough," Lue said. "Guys are playing different ways than they're used to playing. And it's hard to tell four All-Stars and four future Hall of Famers to play different when they've been doing it for so long. And that's going to be the challenge for the coaches all year."
"It's been pretty hard," he added when asked if it was harder than he expected. "But I'm built for it. I love this team. I love our roster. ... It's my job to figure it out as well as our four guys just figuring it out as well."