The LA Clippers put on a show for their home crowd on Sunday night, routing the Minnesota Timberwolves by a final score of 124-105 after leading by as many as 38 points. It was a fitting display for the fans, who were finally able to enter Staples Center and watch the Clippers play for the first time in over a year.
LA didn't lead wire-to-wire, though they might as well have. Minnesota went up 5-2 in the first minute of the contest, but the Clippers recovered and built a 10-point lead late in the first quarter. The Wolves did cut LA's advantage down to three points before the end of the frame, and it looked like they would re-take the lead early in the second, but the Clippers soon put the game out of reach.
LA went on a 36-20 run over the final nine minutes of the first half, going into the break with a 72-53 lead. By then, a few of the Clippers' key players were already enjoying productive nights. Paul George, Marcus Morris, Reggie Jackson and Ivica Zubac had already cracked double-digits in scoring, while Kawhi Leonard appeared to be on his way to a triple-double with eight points, six rebounds and four assists.
The starting five would see significant run in the third quarter, which ended up being the most lopsided of the night. The Clippers outscored the Timberwolves 32-16 in the frame. George, Leonard and Morris combined for 22 points in the frame, singlehandedly outscoring Minnesota.
With a 35-point lead going into the fourth quarter, it was clear that LA's starters were no longer needed, and all five were given the rest of the night off. None of them played more than 27 minutes, which was a big win for guys like George and Leonard, who have been dealing with injuries as of late.
The final score might not have reflected it, but this was easily one of LA's most dominant wins of the season and is a great way for the team to get back on track after losing to the Philadelphia 76ers on Friday night.
Now let's get into some takeaways.
Paul George's 30-Point Streak Comes to an End
It was bound to happen eventually.
After going for 30+ points in five consecutive contests, Paul George's scoring streak came to an end against the Minnesota Timberwolves. The All-Star forward was efficient in the win and was on pace to hit the 30-point mark in the fourth quarter, but the game wasn't close enough to warrant him being on the floor that late. George finished with 23 points (9-17 FG, 4-9 3PT), seven rebounds and five assists in 27 minutes of action.
After the game, George said it was "great" that he could get some in-game rest in the fourth quarter and keep his minutes down. Later, he gave his take on why the Clippers' offense is rolling as of late.
"I think we've been doing a better job of moving the ball, moving ourselves and just looking to make players for one another," George said. "I think that's been the key and again just being able to spread the floor just gives us a lot of space, and we've got good one-on-one guys and good pick-and-roll guys that can create mismatches and create rotations. From there we just play the right way. We make the right players and it's the reason why we've been shooting at a high clip."
George is right about the ball movement — the Clippers have recorded 30 or more assists in four of their last six contests, which is something they had done just six times all season before this current stretch. Plenty of those assists have come on three-pointers as well — the Clippers have knocked down 19 or more threes in a game three times in their last six games, which they've only done nine times this year.
LA's offense is clearly heading in the right direction whether George is putting up 30-pieces or not. That's a tremendous sign for a team looking to begin its deepest postseason run in franchise history next month.
Kawhi Leonard Nearly Records Triple-Double, Again
Last season, Kawhi Leonard recorded the first triple-double of his NBA career. Since then, he's come close to achieving the feat on numerous occasions, including on Sunday night.
Leonard played just 23 minutes in the win over Minnesota, but he stuffed the stat sheet while he was out there. The All-Star forward finished the game with 15 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists — coming just two dimes shy of his second career triple-double.
Of course, Leonard doesn't care whether he ever does it again. He's been asked about it on past occasions, and he usually replies with something along the lines of how he's doing whatever he needs to do to help his team win.
Leonard has always been a terrific scorer and rebounder, but the reason he never recorded a triple-double until last year is that he's never been much of a playmaker — until now, that is.
Before his debut season with the Clippers in 2019, Leonard had never recorded more than eight assists in a single game. In 103 games with LA, he's reached that mark 15 times already.
Leonard simply does it all these days, and he's only getting better.
Welcomes Back, Clippers Fans
LA Clippers fans made their long-awaited return to Staples Center on Sunday night, which marked the first time that fans have been able to see a Clippers home game since March 8, 2020.
It was also the first time that Tyronn Lue got to coach a game in front of his home crowd, which he reflected on after the contest.
"It felt great, just hearing their support, hearing their energy tonight was great," Lue said. "Kind of different because it's been over a year, but having them back in this building was tremendous. So hopefully we will continue to keep adding and go from there, but it was great having them there tonight."
LA only has 13 regular-season contests remaining, and just five of those will be played at home. But with the postseason rapidly approaching, fans should get many more opportunities to see the Clippers in person.