Clippers humbled by first-place Timberwolves in blowout loss

LOS ANGELES, CA - FEBRUARY 12, 2024: LA Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard (2) dribbles out.

The Clippers had an opportunity to move to the top of the Western Conference, and it was up to them to take advantage of the situation.

Of course, it wasn’t going to be easy against a Minnesota Timberwolves team that had the best record in the West and a half-game lead over the Clippers.

The Clippers vowed to be ready because so much was at stake and also because coach Tyronn Lue said one of their goals is to secure the best record in the NBA by season’s end.

Minnesota center Rudy Gobert blocks a shot by Clippers guard Russell Westbrook during the second half Monday.

But things didn’t work out for the Clippers, who couldn’t overcome the Timberwolves’ stingy defense in a 121-100 loss Monday at Arena.

As a result, the Clippers dropped to third in the West and are 1½-games behind Minnesota and a half-game behind Oklahoma City at 35-16.

“I mean, it’s a good test for us,” Lue said before the game. “I understand they’re playing great basketball and they’re a really good team. So, just up for the challenge. I mean, it’s not going to end our season one way or another. But we just get a chance to play against one of the elite teams in the West, the best team in the West and see where we stack up.”

The Timberwolves have proved their worth all season on the defensive end, holding teams to the lowest scoring totals (107.1 points per game) and lowest field-goal percentage (44.9%) in the NBA.

And the Clippers found that defense a big problem for much of the first half.

Paul George, who became the franchise’s all-time leader in three-pointers, fired off a three late in the second quarter to give the Clippers their first lead of the game, and James Harden followed that with a three-pointer as the buzzer sounded to give the Clippers a four-point lead at halftime.

Clippers forward Paul George argues a call with an official.

In the third quarter, however, the Clippers experienced the Timberwolves’ sterling defense. Minnesota held the Clippers to 19 points on 35% shooting in the quarter. The Clippers shot 40.5% from the field in the game.

That put the Clippers in a 17-point hole, and that hole got deeper in the fourth quarter when they went down by 24. Lue pulled his starters with 4:56 left.

Kawhi Leonard, who was eight for 17 from the field, and George, who was five for 16 from the field, both finished with 18 points. James Harden, who shot five for 13 from the field, had 17 points.

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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