SAN FRANCISCO — After losing for the fourth straight time and blowing a double-digit lead yet again in sudden fashion, the LA Clippers found themselves searching for answers as to why they are headed in the wrong direction in the Western Conference standings.
Head coach Ty Lue said the Clippers have to stay “mentally strong” and “be tougher” after they blew a 12-point lead in a demoralizing third quarter that allowed the Golden State Warriors to run away with a 115-91 victory at Chase Center on Thursday.
The Clippers (33-32) haven’t won since entering the All-Star break winning 10 of 14 games. They’ve blown leads of 14, 12 and 12 points in losses to Sacramento, Denver and Golden State, respectively, since the break. To compound matters, the Clippers will attempt to halt their slide without Kawhi Leonard when they face the Kings in Sacramento on Friday.
Leonard said he will continue to sit out a back-to-back game, as has been the team’s plan to keep its franchise star healthy for the postseason after he missed all of last season following right ACL surgery.
“For us, we just got to stay the course, got to be mentally tough, mentally strong, can’t give in, and just got to be tougher,” Lue said. “That’s the bottom line. When stuff doesn’t go your way, it shows you what you’re made of. I’m confident that we have a good team and they have to be the same way. They’ve got to feel the same confidence.
“I don’t care about missed shots, it’s going to happen. You’re going to turn the ball over some, but you can’t give in and my thing is just having that toughness and that mindset that, OK, things are not going well, then let’s do something about it.”
After adding Eric Gordon, Mason Plumlee and Bones Hyland at the trade deadline and signing Russell Westbrook during the All-Star break, the Clippers have dropped to seventh in the West after being fourth at the break.
This certainly is not what owner Steve Ballmer, who had a front-row seat for Thursday night’s game, envisioned when he spent money to assemble one of the deepest rosters in the NBA.
The Clippers led 61-49 with 10:21 remaining in the third but shot 4-for-22 for the quarter, allowing Golden State to go on a 38-8 run.
Westbrook, who shot 3-for-12 and had eight points and six assists, was on the bench for a good portion of that run, sitting when the Clippers were up three, only to come back in late in the quarter when they were down 14. The Warriors were clearly sagging off Westbrook and daring the point guard to shoot, but the Clippers were still able to build their 12-point lead until their third-quarter drought.
“We gotta just dial in, continue to dial in,” said Paul George, who shot 3-for-15 and had 11 points, five assists and five rebounds. “All these teams we [are] playing, especially in this stretch right here, [are] playoff teams. That’s how we gotta approach this — be locked in as if these are playoff games to help get into that mindset. Because we need these games right now. These are games that we can [not] allow ourselves to slip, and these [are] the games you shoot yourself in the foot when it comes to the end of the season, and we look at where we’re at and we’re not happy with where we’re at. So we gotta have some desperation going into these games.”
The Clippers will have to try to slow down Sacramento’s high-octane offense without Leonard. They lost to the Kings in the second-highest scoring game in NBA history last Friday, 176-175 in double overtime at Crypto.com Arena. That night, they blew a 14-point lead late in the fourth and then a six-point lead in each overtime.
Following Friday’s game at Sacramento, the Clippers return home to face Memphis on Sunday.
Asked if the Clippers have enough urgency, George said it has to improve.
“It could be better,” George said. “Urgency could be better.”