CLEVELAND — Before the game, Los Angeles Clippers coach Doc Rivers acknowledged the Cavaliers’ disappointing season, with a caveat.
“They’ve not had the year obviously that maybe they’ve wanted — or maybe they have, I’m not so sure,” Rivers said, contemplating whether the front office decided to tank after a rash of injuries. “But what they’ve done and what stands out to me is the team competitiveness.”
The Cavs’ homestand concluded Friday night with the third consecutive playoff team visiting Quicken Loans Arena, at least according to the current standings. And after beating the Detroit Pistons and Milwaukee Bucks, the Cavs again showed they were no pushover.
Even with the Clippers leading by nine with over eight minutes left and Cavs standout rookie Collin Sexton going to the bench with five fouls late in the third quarter, the Cavs refused to buckle. The drama went down to the wire, with Jordan Clarkson missing a game-winning 3-pointer from the key just at the buzzer as the Clippers escaped with a 110-108 victory.
The Cavs (19-54) had their four-game home winning streak snapped, but they are 7-8 since the All-Star break and 6-3 at the Q in that span.
The Clippers (43-30) won their fourth in a row and their ninth in the last 10 games. They entered the night eighth in the Western Conference, 6½ games ahead of the Sacramento Kings.
Kevin Love led the Cavs with 22 points and eight rebounds, Sexton contributed 20 points and four rebounds and Clarkson had 20 points, five rebounds and two assists. Nance, on his father's bobblehead night, chipped in 14 points and nine rebounds.
Forward Danilo Gallinari led the Clippers with 27 points, making 11-of-15 field goals, and rookie Shai Gilgeous-Alexander added 16 points and five assists. The Clippers had a 10-point edge at the free-throw line, making 20-of-23 to the Cavs' 10-of-13.
Baskets by Clarkson and Nance in the final 1:05, the latter a slam off a Clarkson bounce pass, helped the Cavs cut the Clippers’ lead to 108-106 with 37.4 seconds remaining. After a Patrick Beverley miss, Cedi Osman fouled Landry Shamet, who made the second free throw for a 109-106 lead with 13.8 seconds to go.
After a timeout, Love drove around Gallinari for a hook shot that cut the gap to one with 10.7 seconds left. After a Clippers timeout, they threw the ball into the backcourt and the Cavs were forced to foul. Beverley made just the first free throw and Nance rebounded with 6.2 seconds left, setting up Clarkson’s attempt.
Re-entering the game with 3:32 left, Sexton saw his string of seven consecutive games with at least 23 points snapped by foul trouble that limited him to 30 minutes. The eighth overall pick from Alabama was trying to become the first rookie in the league to total 23 or more points in eight consecutive games since Allen Iverson, who achieved the feat in nine consecutive games for the Philadelphia 76ers in April 1997.
Still, Sexton recorded his eighth consecutive 20-point game, surpassed in Cavs rookie history only by Ron Harper’s 13 in 1987. Sexton’s string is the longest by a league rookie this season.
Love started despite missing shoot-around with an illness. He rebounded from a 1-for-10 shooting night against the Bucks Wednesday by making 8-of-14 from the field, including 4-of-7 from long range.
But a rough week physically continued for Love. Last Saturday at Dallas, he fell hard while challenged on a made layup and missed Monday’s victory over the Pistons with a sore lower back. On Wednesday, he knocked heads with the Bucks’ Eric Bledsoe with seconds left before halftime and departed for good with 9:10 left in the third quarter.
On this night, Love was hit below the belt by the off hand of Gallinari, crumbling to the court as the action continued with 2:10 to go before halftime. As he did in each case, Love remained in the game.
Clarkson also got a piece of history. With a layup with 8:03 left in the second quarter, he scored his 1,221st bench point to pass Campy Russell (1,210 in 1975-76) for the most by a Cav in a single season. Clarkson also reached 1,000 career assists.
Shooting 63 percent from the field, the Cavs grabbed a 40-25 lead at the end of the first quarter, their highest-scoring first quarter of the season. The Clippers never led in the first half as the Cavs hung on to a 60-58 advantage at the break.
The Clippers took their first lead on the first basket of the third quarter, a 3-pointer by Beverley, and were up 92-83 going into the fourth quarter.
Marla Ridenour can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Cavs blog at www.ohio.com/cavs. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MRidenourABJ.