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Patchwork Clippers knock off Kevin Durant, James Harden and the Nets

Patchwork Clippers knock off Kevin Durant, James Harden and the Nets

Who needs moral victories? Even missing their head coach and more than half their roster, the Clippers came to play for the real thing Saturday, upsetting the Brooklyn Nets, 120-116.

Saturday’s patchwork version of the Clippers went to battle with Goliath in Gotham on New Year’s Day and did it down, for all intents, 10 men and their coach.

Spurred by Eric Bledsoe’s season-high 27 points and secured by Brooklyn-born Terance Mann’s big go-ahead bucket with 23.5 seconds left, the professional basketball players wearing Clippers white – three of them new to the team, coming aboard in the past few days on 10-day hardship deals – competed stubbornly all game.

The Clippers stayed in striking distance of Kevin Durant and James Harden’s Nets, one of the Eastern Conference’s power teams at 23-11.

They never trailed by more than 13 points, when Durant found James Johnson streaking to the rim for a bucket that made it 105-92 with 5:57 to play.

Still, the Clippers ignored the memo and the odds.

Bledsoe’s steal and bucket closed the gap 107-100, and after Bruce Brown was called for a clear-path foul, Mann made one of his two free throws to trim it a bit more: 107-101 with 4:23 left.

Then Reggie Jackson shook himself free for a 21-foot jumper before Bledsoe drew a foul and hit two free throws to draw the Clippers within 107-105.

And after DeAndre’ Bembry made a basket and a free throw to make it 110-105 with 3:25 to play, Bledsoe struck again, muscling in for a layup that cut the lead again to 3.

Then Amir Coffey drained his third 3-pointer to tie it 110-110.

Durant swished a midrange jumper, but Justise Winslow (11 points) attacked and drew a foul and hit both of his free throws to even the score again.

Harden went charging toward the rim and drew a foul on Winslow – acting coach Brian Shaw challenged the call unsuccessfully – and made one of his two free throws.

Winslow’s little floater made put the Clippers ahead 114-113 with 1:03 to play and Mann knocked down an open 3-pointer in the corner with 23.5 seconds left that made it 117-113. As Mann (19 points) went skipping down the court, the Clippers’ thin bench erupted in delight.

To ensure the victory, Jackson fouled Harden (34 points, 12 rebounds, 13 assists) before he could take a shot, sending him to the line with 11.4 seconds left. The former NBA MVP knocked down both foul shots to make it 117-115.

Bledsoe (who shot 8 for 12, and 4 for 6 from deep Saturday) was fouled and made one of two free throws, giving the Clippers a 118-115 lead with 8.2 ticks to go.

Winslow whacked Durant (28 points, nine rebounds) before he could get up a shot, sending him to the free-throw line where the career 88.2% free-throw shooter missed one of his two foul shots, giving back the ball to the Clippers with an improbable 118-116 lead.

James Johnson fouled Jackson to stop the clock and Jackson – in his second game back after missing four games in protocols – buried both free throws, and, effectively, the highly favored Nets.

The Clippers weren’t only supremely short-handed: They were playing their second game in as many nights and their fifth in seven days.

And they were up against a Nets team that wasn’t only very nearly fully staffed – missing only two players for the game before 17,732 fans at Barclays Center – but well-rested. Brooklyn was playing just its fourth game in 14 days after three of its games between Dec. 19-23 were postponed on account of COVID-19.

More to come on this story.

Press Enterprise