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Paul George’s 39 points lead Clippers past Cavaliers

With the Clippers missing Kawhi Leonard and down 26 in the third quarter, George scores 23 in the fourth and hits the decisive shot with seven seconds left for a 120-118 comeback win

The Clippers’ Paul George reacts after scoring the go-ahead basket late in the fourth quarter against the Cleveland Cavaliers in Sunday, April 7, 2024, at Arena. (AP Photo/Ryan Sun)
The Clippers’ Paul George reacts after scoring the go-ahead basket late in the fourth quarter against the Cleveland Cavaliers in Sunday, April 7, 2024, at Arena. (AP Photo/Ryan Sun)

LOS ANGELES — Whatever progress the Clippers made in their recent stretch of games wasn’t apparent early Sunday against the Cleveland Cavaliers at Arena.

The defense gave up 80 points in the first half, the offense stalled and double-digit turnovers seemed to doom any chance they had at posting a third consecutive victory and their sixth in seven games.

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

And so he did.

George scored 23 of his game-high 39 points in the final quarter and blocked a potential game-tying shot to pull the Clippers from an afternoon disaster to their biggest comeback of the season, a 120-118 victory against the Cavs

The victory assured the Clippers (50-28) of their sixth 50-win season in franchise history.

The Clippers trailed by as many as 26 points in the third quarter before George took control, scoring and assisting on other shots down the stretch to seal the victory. He said he wasn’t going to stop playing hard until the clock reached zero.

“I told (coach Tyronn Lue), ‘Don’t take me out.’ I wanted to stay in,” said George, who sat with ice bags on both knees for 30 minutes after the game.

“I just felt we were making a good push and he trusted me to just continue it on. … I just thought we were in striking range and my aggression just got higher, and so it was just a will to win at that point.

Norman Powell got the rally going with two big 3-pointers in the third quarter and one in the fourth that cut the Cavs’ lead to 100-92. George then got going.

Terance Mann tied the game at 115 on a corner 3-pointer with 1:16 to play and Amir Coffey, on a pass from George, gave the Clippers a 118-115 lead on a 26-footer for his only basket of the game.

Cavs center Jarrett Allen again tied the game at 118 with a three-point play, but George scored with seven seconds to go on a 13-foot jumper as the shot clock buzzer sounded to put the Clippers ahead. He then blocked Darius Garland’s two-foot shot as time ran out.

“I went with him in the fourth quarter,” Lue said. “I was debating a couple times to get him out for two minutes and bring him back. But he said he was good. He said he was OK. And I mean that was a huge game he had tonight, and we needed every bit of it – just rebounding, the big, blocked shot at the end, the game winner. So, he was huge for us all night.”

Russell Westbrook, who smothered Max Strus’ last-gasp 3-pointer, said the team had to “dig in.”

“It’s the time of the year. Can’t give in, can’t give up games,” said Westbrook, who finished with eight points, seven rebounds and six assists. “Got to find ways to win basketball games, however you gotta dog it. And for us it’s important, especially with Kawhi down. You got to figure out ways to be able to get a win.”

Making their effort harder was the fact the Clippers again were without Kawhi Leonard, who missed his fourth consecutive game because of inflammation in his right knee. Reserve center Daniel Theis also sat out the game because of a sprained left thumb.

Without Leonard, Lue knew it would be a long afternoon against the Cavs, who are in third place in the Eastern Conference and possess two of the league’s most dynamic guards in Garland and Donovan Mitchell.

Mitchell, however, didn’t play due to left knee injury management. The Cavs still had five players in double figures, led by Garland’s 28 points and eight assists.

James Harden, listed by the Clippers as questionable because of a sore right foot, scored 22 points with five rebounds and five assists in 26 minutes. He didn’t play the fourth quarter with Lue said he was “not able to go back in.” He didn’t explain further.

In addition to his points, George had a season-high 11 rebounds and seven assists. Powell scored 14 points and Ivica Zubac posted 14 points and 11 rebounds.

The game appeared to be one of those early contests that seem to catch the Clippers unprepared. The Cavs jumped out to an eight-point lead in the first quarter.

Unlike other matinee games this season, however, the Clippers managed to get themselves back into contention, even taking a two-point lead with 1:17 in the first on a step-back 10-footer by George. Then they reverted to their old habits.

“So, we challenged our guys at halftime like we know we can score the basketball, but can we get stops? Can we pick our physicality up? Can we guard our man one-on-one? If you guard your man one-on-one, the help defense is easier,” Lue said.

“But if you’re getting blown by it’s just too hard. And so, I give our guys credit in that second half, outside the first maybe six minutes of the third quarter, after that we really started defending, we really got into them aggressively. That changed the game.”

By halftime, the Cavs held an 80-59 lead and stretched it to 26 points in the third quarter as they took advantage of Clippers turnovers.

Slowly, though, the Clippers staged a comeback that was unthinkable in other matinee games.

Behind the play of Zubac and Powell, the Clippers managed to find their rhythm late in the third, pulling to within 94-77 on a 3-pointer by Powell. The former UCLA star again found the basket from beyond the 3-point line to narrow the lead 97-86 with 31 seconds left in the quarter, capping an 18-4 run.

Zubac had eight points, scoring on all four of his attempts, and posted five rebounds in the quarter.