The Charlotte Hornets made up a 22-point deficit to lead by as many as four points in the fourth quarter, but couldn’t put away the Los Angeles Clippers in a 99-92 loss at Staples Center.
Hornets center Al Jefferson finished with 21 points, while Clippers guard J.J. Redick led his team in scoring with 23. Blake Griffin added 19 points for the Clippers and Chris Paul finished with 19 points and eight assists.
The Hornets fell to 29-37 this season, while the Clippers improved to 43-25.
Trailing by five or fewer points late, the Hornets started sending Clippers center DeAndre Jordan, a notoriously poor foul-shooter, to the line. Jordan, who makes 40 percent from the line this season, kept making one of two attempts late.
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Down four with 1 minute, 25 seconds left, the Hornets got a stop, but Jefferson miss-handled the ball out of bounds under the basket. However Paul missed a running jump shot, giving possession back to the Hornets.
That’s when Jefferson missed a jump hook in the low post.
The Hornets had a big third quarter to get back into this game, trailing 77-74 entering the fourth. The Clippers committed eight turnovers in the third period.
Point guards Mo Williams (18 points) and Kemba Walker (15) combined to score 15 of the Hornets’ 33 third-quarter points.
The Hornets trailed 59-41 at halftime, after giving up 53 percent shooting to the Clippers in the first half. The Hornets prioritize protecting the lane – they give up the third-fewest points in the paint in the NBA at 39 per game – but the Clippers scored 24 points in the paint in the first half alone.
Hornets coach Steve Clifford emphasizes defense, rebounding and low-turnover offense. His team demonstrated none of that in the first half. The Clippers outrebounded the Hornets 23-20 and the Hornets committed nine first-half turnovers to four by the Clippers.
The Clippers feature former Wake Forest star Paul at point guard, which was sure to expose Hornets point guard Mo Williams’ defensive limitations. So the Hornets started out with small forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Charlotte’s defensive ace, on Paul. That meant Mo Williams was matched defensively against Clippers small forward Hedo Turkoglu.
Turkoglu was a fill-in starter, as Matt Barnes missed the game with a sore hamstring. Barnes’ backup, Jamal Crawford, also missed the game with a right calf contusion.
Turkoglu is nine inches taller than the 6-foot-1 Williams, but he’s in the late stages of his NBA career and didn’t hurt the Hornets much. Turkoglu and Williams each finished the half with six points.
Paul finished the first half with seven points and eight assists. He continuously fed power forward Griffin (15 first-half points) and shooting guard Redick (12) for a dominant offensive performance. Nineteen of the Clippers’ 25 first-half baskets were assisted.
The Hornets’ only double-figure scorer in the first half was Jefferson with 11 points on 5-of-9 shooting from the field. Opponents have constantly sent double-teams at Jefferson in the post this season, but the Clippers for the most part trusted Jordan to guard Jefferson one-on-one. That minimized the need to rotate, and no other Hornet was much of a scoring threat.
The Hornets had half as many points in the paint (12) as the Clippers at the half.
The Hornets won’t practice Wednesday in Sacramento. They’ll reconvene for a Thursday practice before playing the Kings Friday night at Sleep Train Arena.