Clippers go small and come up short against Stephen Curry and Warriors

Los Angeles Clippers guard James Harden reacts after being called for a foul during the first half.

The Clippers avoided a hit to their rotation when Norman Powell played Thursday night despite suffering a knee contusion one night earlier in Sacramento.

It was one of the few breaks the Clippers received in a 120-114 loss to Golden State that dropped them to 8-10, with a rematch against the Warriors coming Saturday in Los Angeles.

Unable early to match Golden State’s activity grabbing offensive rebounds and three-point shooting, and later unsure how to slow Klay Thompson’s offensive renaissance, the Clippers trailed by as many as 18 points before pulling within two possessions into the final minutes until coach Tyronn Lue emptied the bench with 30 seconds to play.

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The Warriors (9-10) had lost eight of their previous 10 games.

Kawhi Leonard finished with 23 points and seven rebounds but only two points in the fourth quarter. James Harden scored 18 points, with three in the fourth quarter after taking his first fourth-quarter shot in three games.

Powell played 18 minutes, scoring five points. Paul George scored 10 of his 15 points in the final quarter and added 10 assists.

The Clippers limited their turnovers for a second consecutive game, finishing with only six.

Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard controls the ball in front of Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green.

Reinserted midway through the second quarter trailing by 16, the Clippers’ starters trimmed the deficit to 11 by halftime. They were within four points four minutes into the third quarter. Sixty-two seconds later, Golden State had scored seven unanswered points, a spurt started by the thing that hurt them for the first half — an offensive rebound that led to second-chance points.

Of the Warriors’ first 15 possessions of the second half, they scored on eight. Lue has said he wants to use small lineups — ones without a traditional center — as a measure of last resort, but this qualified, as he went ultra-small, seemingly determining that a good offense was his best defense. And so he inserted backup guard Bones Hyland for his first rotation minutes since Nov. 10 as part of a lineup with Russell Westbrook, Powell, Leonard and Harden, the 6-foot-8 Leonard the tallest player.

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It wasn’t a cure-all, the Clippers down 10 when Lue went to the lineup and nine at the quarter’s end, 3 minutes 43 seconds later. When the fourth quarter began, backup center Daniel Theis was in and Hyland retreated to the bench one minute later as the Clippers attempted to mount a final rally.

Their advance was blunted when Thompson scored 10 consecutive points for Golden State — he finished with 22 — but not ended entirely. They were still within six points with 40 seconds to play, but after free throws by Stephen Curry pushed the lead to eight, George turned the ball over.

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.