Clippers clamp down in fourth quarter on Rockets to pull away for win

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - JANUARY 15: Kawhi Leonard #2 of the LA Clippers dribbles into the defense of Jabari Smith Jr. #1 of the Houston Rockets during the first half of a game at Crypto.com Arena on January 15, 2023 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard, who had 30 points Sunday, has his drive toward the lane cut off by Rockets forward Jabari Smith Jr. (Sean M. Haffey / Getty Images)

The injury list grew yet again for the Clippers, leaving it up to Kawhi Leonard and the rest of the healthy group to push forward through this turbulent season.

In essence, it was placed on the shoulders of Leonard to carry the undermanned Clippers against the talented and also shorthanded Houston Rockets.

Leonard did his part, as did Terance Mann and a stingy fourth-quarter defense, to help the Clippers pull away for a 121-100 win over the Rockets on Sunday afternoon at Crypo.com Arena.

“I thought we did a better job of just bringing a physicality to the game and that's how we gotta start the game,” said Clippers coach Tyronn Lue, who then addressed playing shorthanded. “It's unfortunate tonight, but it was a good win for us, despite who's playing on their team, our team. But we needed that win.”

Leonard finished with 30 points, six rebounds and four assists in 32 minutes.

Mann, in his fourth consecutive start at point guard, had 31 points, his career high for a regular-season game. He also had six rebounds, four assists and drilled a three-pointer from half court to beat the halftime buzzer.

“I think just getting downhill, that’s my game,” Mann said. “Shooting open threes, that’s my game. And creating for others and that keeps the pressure on the defensive end and, yeah man, that’s really what I bring to the table, and that’s just how I want to try and win.”

The Clippers were outstanding on defense in the fourth quarter, showing why they had entered the game ranked third in the NBA in points allowed (110.1). They held the Rockets to 10 points, on 25% shooting, in the final 12 minutes.

Clippers guard Terance Mann reacts with a yell after scoring against the Rockets on Sunday.
Clippers guard Terance Mann reacts with a yell after scoring against the Rockets on Sunday. He had a regular-season career-high 31 points in the win. (Sean M. Haffey / Getty Images)

Norman Powell had 18 points off the bench, recording a plus/minus rating of plus-27 in 27½ minutes of play.

“With the players out, we still have things we can build on,” Leonard said. “Missed assignments, or just turning over the ball. Even if they come back, we’re still going to have to improve on those things. So, just got to keep grinding it out, like I said.”

It was a game in which the Clippers were not only missing Paul George (hamstring) for the fifth consecutive game, Luke Kennard (calf) for the fourth in a row and Moussa Diabate (non-COVID illness), but Marcus Morris Sr. (left knee contusion) is listed as day to day, and John Wall (abdominal strain) will be evaluated in two weeks for his injury.

Lue expects his team to stay the course through all of this.

“Our principles can stay the same, no matter who's on the floor,” Lue said before the game. “I think having a defensive mindset, moving the basketball, getting to our second and third actions, I think attacking the paint like we talk about every single day and just playing the right way, that's gotta be our main focus no matter who's playing.

"And it's about the style of basketball we play and we know when guys are out, it's gonna be tough to win games. But we still can have our core principles on both sides of the basketball, and that's the most important.”

For Wall, his injury occurred against the Denver Nuggets, and he wasn’t sure how it happened.

“After I dunked you could kind of see me, I was going like this,” Wall said, grabbing his abdomen. “I didn't know what it was. And then I went through practice yesterday and I went through everything they went through but didn't run or nothing. And then we got an MRI and then they called me at 6 o'clock and told me what it was.”

The Rockets didn’t have Jalen Green, their leading scorer (21.5), and Jae’Sean Tate, who both were serving one-game suspensions for leaving the bench during an on-court altercation in a game at Sacramento. The Rockets also didn’t have Kevin Porter, their second-leading scorer (19.2), because of a left foot injury.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.