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No matter what happened against Houston, Friday was going to count as at least one loss for the Clippers.
They avoided a second by weathering a roller-coaster victory that mirrored the ups and downs of their previous 24 hours.
On the same day starting guard Patrick Beverley was lost for at least the next three weeks following surgery to fix the left hand he fractured Thursday against Phoenix — a setback for a team that rarely has been whole this season but had just gotten healthier — a roster missing more contributors than Beverley endured a feast-or-famine four quarters against the Rockets before pulling away for a 126-109 victory, the Clippers’ fourth consecutive at Staples Center.
Wearing protective glasses one night after being poked in the eye, Reggie Jackson scored 26 points to continue his superb play. Kawhi Leonard led the way with 31 points and eight assists.
“It is all part of the NBA; you get used to it,” coach Tyronn Lue said on a postgame videoconference. “I am just proud of our guys because they could have very easily had a letdown.”
Caught flat-footed by the Rockets’ energy, the Clippers allowed a 29-9 run to trail by 14 in the second quarter. But instead of following Thursday’s win against the second-place Suns with a loss against a Houston squad owning the West’s second-worst record, the Clippers closed the half on a 41-4 run to produce a second quarter like few in the team’s history.
Houston’s 10 second-quarter points were the fewest scored in any quarter by any team this season, and the Rockets’ defense couldn’t mitigate their offense’s woes, either. The quarter’s 31-point differential tied for the second largest in Clippers history.
In the third quarter, Houston’s 20-7 run trimmed its 21-point halftime deficit to just eight. A fourth-quarter push brought the Rockets within six. The Clippers (36-18) closed in most appropriate fashion —outscoring Houston 22-5 over 5½ minutes.
The shifting emotions of a night in which the Clippers alternated between delivering and weathering runs was not altogether dissimilar from the way they’d spent the previous day.
A significant win against the Suns was followed by the equally significant loss of Beverley, who’d returned only two games earlier. After his first game back from a right knee injury that cost him three weeks, Beverley had said that he was “just fortunate to be back and healthy.”
He fractured his left hand’s fourth metacarpal trying to grab a defensive rebound against the Suns. Surgery took place Friday morning at the Kerlan-Jobe Surgery Center. Beverley will be re-evaluated in three to four weeks and there is no timetable for his return, according to the team.
But there is a ticking countdown clock, however, to the postseason’s start — just 43 days.
“It’s just tough because Pat is such a hard worker, did all the right things to come back and get back to play, to get back to action, and for this to happen the second game back, it’s just tough to see,” Lue said. “We’re going to hold the fort down until he gets back; next-man-up mentality.”
Paul George sat for rest Friday while Rajon Rondo was held out for precautionary reasons, as the team wants to limit his minutes on consecutive nights, Lue said. Those absences meant more time for Luke Kennard and Terance Mann, the guards whose minutes had been displaced most by this week’s return of Beverley and the addition of Rondo.
Mann tied his career high with nine assists and scored 16 points in 36 minutes after playing 15 total in his previous two games. Kennard scored three points with six rebounds and three assists in 26 minutes, after 4½ combined minutes in his previous two.
“It’s sad, kind of sucks,” Mann said of Beverley’s injury. “He just got back. Can’t really catch a break right now. But he’ll recover fast.”
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.