Doc Rivers had had it. He was tired of this year's Clippers being compared to last year's team, as if the 2018-19 Clippers had left a championship foundation to build upon.
"Everyone mentions last year – I don't. What I know about last year, we were the 8th seed, we were 19th in defense and we lost in the first round. I just will reject that that was such a great year," Rivers said pregame. "We did a lot, it was fun, we did some good things, but it wasn't good enough. And, to me, I hate using that as a benchmark.
"That's all I keep telling our guys. It's frustrating as hell to me. Like, everyone brings it up. It's not a benchmark. That's a losing organization. Crap. Like, last year's your benchmark? No, I reject that. And that's what I tell our guys every day."
The Clippers certainly hope to achieve more this season than last year's outfit did, and they have the superstar talent to dream big. But for one day, the Clippers were forced to rely on last year's core.
With Kawhi Leonard out for knee maintenance and Paul George missing the final seven minutes after fouling out, the returning Clippers, led by Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell, had to get the job done against New York. They executed down the stretch to earn L.A. a 135-132 win.
The Knicks closed to within three points late in the fourth, but Williams and Harrell continued to make key plays to keep the Clippers in the lead. The highlight was Harrell executing a fake handoff with Williams, and then driving to the basket for an emphatic dunk. Harrell tied a career-high with 34 points, and Williams was close behind with 32.
"What makes this team so great and unique, I can be off the floor, Kawhi can be off the floor and we still got two guys who can close games," Paul George said postgame. "I trusted them, I think everybody trusted those two, and it was almost like they locked in down that stretch and they made every big play and basket that we need."
Although the game ended on a high note, for 12 minutes Sunday, it looked like the Clippers were headed towards an embarrassing set of back-to-back losses. One day after essentially no-showing an afternoon game against Memphis, the team was off to another slow start against the New York Knicks.
The Knicks are the second-lowest scoring team in the league and have the fourth-worst offensive rating. But New York had no trouble against a disinterested Clippers defense to start the game. L.A. was allowing dribble penetration far to easily to the basket, and the Knicks capitalized with 19-of-25 shooting en route to a 45-point quarter.
New York scored on 10 consecutive possessions to end the period, and it seemed like the Clippers might be in for another dispiriting defeat.
Instead, the Clippers rebounded with one of their finest quarters of the season. The team finally started playing some defense, and the bench duo of Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell proved unstoppable scoring the ball. The pair combined for 32 points in the second, including a career-high five 3-pointers from Williams.
The Clippers ran a series of horns actions during the period, allowing Williams to operate with a head of steam going left or right, and he simply cooked the Knicks defense with his shooting. Meanwhile, Harrell's energy in the paint was infectious, and a clear indicator that he was not ready to lose another game after his comments Saturday.
The Clippers now have four days off until they host the Golden State Warriors Friday.