LOS ANGELES – The Los Angeles Clippers were a dangerous team when their stop-motion stars played, and Friday night was no different. The Utah Jazz come to the Staples Center having won 20 of their last 21 games. The Clippers have won 31 of their last 40 games with Kawhi Leonard, Paul George and Patrick Beverley.

Los Angeles defeated Utah 116-112 in a thrilling game on Friday night, with Leonard scoring 29 points and Donovan Mitchell 35. While most of the game was a delight for basketball fans, it was the final 40 seconds that became immediately exciting.

The Clippers led 108-100 with 40.4 seconds left in the game, but struggled with what should have been a routine run-in, a free throw, and a defensive play to end the game.

We definitely need to improve, Patrick Beverley admitted after the game. I mean, sure, you know they’re number one in the NBA, and for good reason. You’ve got to give them all the credit, they didn’t fall, they kept fighting, and you expect that, but we, you know, I think we fought every time we fell, so we’ve got to do better. We watch the movie and then we feel better. It’s a good thing this happened as early as possible.

Yeah, we have to be better than that. It’s the first team in the NBA, and for good reason …. I think we’ve struggled every time, so we have to be better, but we’ll see the film and we’ll be better.

Patrick Beverly in the last 40 seconds. #Clippers pic.twitter.com/jZYvD4uKgY

– Tomer Azarly (@TomerAzarly) February 20, 2021

In the fourth quarter, Beverly made two of three important points to give the Clippers a comfortable lead – or so everyone thought. He finished the game with 17 points on 5 of 7 shooting from the field and a three-point trio. He even managed to throw four free throws in the closing minutes to prevent a Jazz comeback.

Tyronn Lue and the Clippers said after Wednesday’s defeat that they know exactly what they need to do in terms of a game plan to beat the Jazz. Lou pulled a risky trick out of his hat and threw a ball to end the game while Utah kept Rudy Gobert on the floor. Patrick Beverley, Paul George, Kawhi Leonard, Nick Batum and Marcus Morris were the finalists.

In theory, Gobert should have dominated the Clippers in the paint. Instead, he forced Gobert to lie down and take three-point shots on the perimeter. When he went overboard and got sucked into the paint, the Clippers threw him out to open up the gunners. If he didn’t crash into a key, the Clippers used their advantage to score inside.

We may be small, but deep down we certainly are not, Beverly adds with a smile. We know Rudy Gobert is one of the best defensive players in the NBA who defends on the edge. When we play such a small team, we want to take it out of the ballpark to get early drives and open lanes. Kawhi], [Paul], guys like that, so you know they kiss them a little bit, and you know those guys just made the right play, and it was up to me and Mook [Marcus] to open the throws at the end, and we did.

We may be small, but we are certainly not small at heart. We know Rudy Gobert is one of the best defenders in the NBA. We wanted him out of the paint so we could leave early and make some passages.

Patrick Beverley at the small ball line in the 4th pic.twitter.com/Prw1eEBYFi.

– Tomer Azarly (@TomerAzarly) February 20, 2021

Kawhi Leonard, back from a three-game absence after a left leg injury, scored 29 points on 10 of 24 shots from the field, but he also scored a pair of shots and decisive free throws late in the game. He was just grateful to be able to return to the court after his persistent injury.

I’m just glad I got to play today, Leonard said. We were able to be healthy and hit our first five years, which is the goal. We want to get better. Obviously, we haven’t had a chance to play with a healthy team in two weeks, so we’re hoping to get some blessings and stay healthy until the All-Stars’ trip begins.

Although he hasn’t been at his best for most of the season, Kawhi Leonard said every starter has enough NBA experience to make up for lost time.

We are all professionals, Leonard added. I think all those present have been playing for over a decade. That way we can find a rhythm very early on, but it takes time. You didn’t see those bodies on the ground, clearly playing with me and PG is different. Sometimes we can isolate ourselves or take hard knocks so that everything falls into place. And that’s why we need to keep playing and stay healthy.

Paul George also returned from his bone swelling period, scoring 15 points, grabbing six rebounds and playing five assists that night. It was his first game since the third. February against the Cleveland Cavaliers.

The Clippers, who have improved to 22-9 on the season, will rest Saturday and prepare for Sunday night’s visit from the Brooklyn Nets.

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