Paul George leads Clippers to big comeback win over Cavaliers

Los Angeles Clippers forward Paul George, right, shoots past Cleveland Cavaliers forward Evan Mobley (4) during the second half of an NBA basketball game, Sunday, April 7, 2024, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Ryan Sun)

The coach said his team is still fighting for something even as the regular season is winding down for the Clippers.

It took getting down by 26 points in the third quarter for the Clippers to finally show the fight coach Tyronn Lue expected from his team, which was facing a Cleveland Cavaliers team playing a back-to-back set without All-Star Donovan Mitchell (left knee injury management).

Paul George delivered the big blows for the Clippers, his 23 points the big shots in the fourth quarter, his jumper with 7.1 seconds the final points of the game and his block of a Darius Garland shot the knockout punch that sent the Clippers to a thrilling 120-118 win over the Cavaliers on Sunday at Arena.

George had 39 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists in 44 minutes to help the Clippers produce their third-largest comeback win in franchise history.

“I thought it was a winnable game,” George said. “I knew we weren’t ourselves and so at that point I was locked in and committed to do whatever it took to win.

“These situations aren’t ideal, but it’s nice when posed with these challenges we come together and we find a way to kind of just rally together. I thought this was a game where we really just dug down and that second half was just special. Everybody was locked in defensively. I thought that we got the stops that we needed to convert and we took care of the ball. A lot of luck had to happen, but I thought that we were in position to allow the luck to help.”

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The Clippers showed no fight early in the game as they surrendered 80 points in the first half.

As a result, they trailed by 21 at the intermission.

The Clippers played little defense in the first half and were sloppy with the basketball.

They looked uninspired to be playing an afternoon game and nothing like a team that still is fighting for seeding in the uber-tough Western Conference.

The Clippers’ indifference to playing defense in the first 24 minutes led to the Cavaliers shooting 60.4% from the field and 50% from three-point range.

The Clippers’ inability to take care of the basketball in the first 24 minutes led to 11 turnovers that the Cavaliers turned into 17 points.

Down 89-63 in the third, the Clippers went on a 34-11 run, capped by two free throws from George, to pull within three and to give themselves a chance.

George found Amir Coffey for a three-pointer that tied the score at 118-118.

Then George scored on a 13-foot step-back and followed that with the defensive play of the game by blocking Garland’s shot.

“Either you lay down or you could try to do something different,” George said. “For us, like I said, we knew that first half wasn’t us. Defensively, 80 points in the first half, there was no defense being played at all on our behalf.

“So, I thought defensively we stepped it up and played a little bit more physical. We just kept chipping away and at that point we gave ourselves a chance.”

The Clippers are the fourth-seeded team in the West and want to secure that position so they can have home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs.

With that in mind, Lue said he was not inclined just yet to rest his players as the season nears its conclusion.

“I don’t see that right now,” Lue said. “I mean, we’re still fighting for that four seed. So, until we are able to clinch that and we understand that we have a chance to clinch it or we don’t have a chance to clinch it. … But right now our focus is on just playing better basketball, continue to keep getting better and ending up the best we can as far as seeding.”

The Clippers have four regular-season games left, the back-to-back games at Phoenix on Tuesday and here Wednesday against the Suns the most challenging.

Los Angeles finishes the season with home games against the Utah Jazz and Houston Rockets next weekend.

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.