LOS ANGELES — How the math worked out for the Clippers on Sunday: A 50-point franchise-record victory = five straight wins for a 42-40 record. That makes it 11 consecutive winning seasons, the longest such active streak in the NBA.
Just 11 more and they’ll catch the San Antonio Spurs, who finished better than .500 every season between 1998 and 2019.
But let them not get ahead of themselves.
More pressing: Tuesday’s play-in game at Minnesota, where the seventh-place Timberwolves will host the eighth-place Clippers, with the winner earning the Western Conference’s seventh seed and a matchup with the No. 2 Memphis Grizzlies.
The loser will have one more shot at a playoff berth in a game against either New Orleans or the Spurs, whichever wins their 9 vs. 10 play-in matchup.
Clippers Coach Tyronn Lue might have already been thinking about Minnesota, but his team had one last regular-season task to take care of Sunday, when they pummeled the Oklahoma City Thunder 138-88 before 18,210 fans at Crytpo.com Arena.
For the third consecutive season, the Clippers and Thunder faced off to close the regular season. This year, the Clippers didn’t mess around, even without all of their veteran contributors.
With Tuesday’s play-in game in Minnesota bearing down, Paul George, Norman Powell, Reggie Jackson, Marcus Morris Sr. and Nicolas Batum all watched Sunday’s contest safely from the sideline.
They still spent much of the game on their feet, up cheering for a compilation of balanced contributions from the younger Clippers, including Amir Coffey, the third-year wing who made the most of this stay-ready season by stepping in when his team was short-handed, by whatever the circumstance.
Coffey will be on the Clippers’ postseason roster because his contract was recently converted to a regular deal, but he knows he doesn’t figure into the Clippers’ postseason rotation. As he has all season, he made the most of his time on the court Sunday, recording a career-high 35 points, by hitting a career-high seven 3-pointers and pulling down a career-high 13 rebounds.
Luke Kennard made his first four shots and had 11 points in five minutes en route to 20 points in the 28 minutes he played before leaving the game with a sore right hamstring – which what also kept him from play in Wednesday’s win against Phoenix.
The bubble-gum-chomping Brandon Boston Jr. scored 18 points with a shot portfolio that looked like something out of a game of H.O.R.S.E.
Twenty-seven-year-old rookie Xavier Moon scored a career-high 17 points and Ivica Zubac had his 25th double-double, with 12 points and 11 rebounds in 23 minutes.
Isaiah Hartenstein added 12 points and Terance Mann 10.
Lue’s bigger-picture to-do list Sunday included rebounding and transition defense.
Accordingly, the Clippers who played outrebounded the members of the Thunder who played 57-40 and held them to nine fastbreak points.
The Clippers built a lead as large as 29 in the first half but led just 66-51 at the break, after which they finished the job by outscoring/overwhelming their young guests, 72- 37 in the second half.
It all came easy against a Thunder team that’s been intentional about prioritizing future seasons – and which had trouble finishing even open layups. OKC played only six players Sunday and finished the season 24-58 and after losing 16 of its final 20 games.
The Clippers are optimistic about the future too, of course, but they’ve also got plenty of reason to savor the moment.
Finishing better than .500 this season – without their perennial All-Star Kawhi Leonard at all this season and with fellow All-Star Paul George for only 50 games in addition to an assortment of other roster challenges in a seasons heavily disrupted by COVID-19 – was a feat.
“After we won (Saturday), to be .500 at the worst, just all the things we went through and now having the chance to play in the play in games and try to make the playoffs, I was excited for our team and the guys in the locker room and all the things they’d been through all season long,” Lue said. “We talked about it the last couple weeks, just Marcus and Reggie and Nico and the vets in the locker room and the job they’ve done all season long.”
And Lue made sure also to credit Eric Bledsoe, Serge Ibaka, Justise Winslow and Keon Johnson players who began the season as Clippers before being traded midway through.
“It was collective, it wasn’t just one person, one coach, it was everybody,” Lue surmised. “I’ve been pretty excited about the journey we had this year and where we’re at today.”
More to come on this story.