The Clippers led 85-63 with 3:15 remaining in the third quarter, only to drop a stinging 115-105 loss to the Golden State Warriors on Friday night.
Since the start of last season, and including the playoffs, the Clippers have lost an NBA-high eight games when leading by at least 15 points, according to ESPN Stats and Information research.
“We just have to change, pretty much,” Leonard said after watching Stephen Curry score 19 of his 38 points in the third quarter. “We’ve got to change it. We’ve got to get better.”
With a red-hot Curry sparking the comeback in the third quarter, the Warriors overwhelmed the Clippers with a 52-18 blitz from late in the third to under two minutes remaining in the game.
The Clippers turned the ball over 11 times from the point that they led by 22, and their offense became stagnant. It conjured up bad memories of their 3-1 series collapse to the Denver Nuggets in the second round last postseason when they repeatedly blew big second-half leads to the Nuggets.
When asked if the Clippers had a long talk after this loss, Paul George said he and his teammates “demand greatness” from each other.
“We just want to, just be great as a unit, just demand greatness out of everybody,” George said. “We got to be better. All of us included. This was a team loss, more than anything. We just got to get better. We’ll work on it.”
“I think this is good that something like this happened for this team so early,” George added. “Because fact of the matter is, we have to be a better closing-out team.”
Leonard bristled when asked what was said to each other after the blown second-half lead.
“I’m not about to tell you what we’re doing in the locker room,” Leonard said. “It’s locker room talk.”
After the Clippers’ playoff meltdown against Denver, Leonard said the team had to improve its basketball IQ and know how to get out of jams when things are snowballing the wrong way.
Owner Steve Ballmer replaced Doc Rivers with Ty Lue in the offseason. This season, the Clippers nearly lost big double-digit leads in the second half before holding on to beat the Los Angeles Lakers, Nuggets and Phoenix Suns. Lue praised his team for hanging in and continuing to fight in those wins.
But on Friday night, Lue thought the Clippers went away from what helped them build their big cushion while becoming stagnant on offense once Golden State turned the game.
George finished with 25 points and made 9 of 13 shots. Leonard had 24 points. But the Clippers’ two stars were held to a combined four points in the fourth quarter.
The Clippers’ bench was also outscored 42-20 by the Warriors’ reserves.
“Our third quarter was terrible as far as defense,” Leonard said. “Them able to get easy looks, coming down just laying up the ball with no one there. Steph Curry did a few times.
“In that third quarter, just guys coming down and getting either open looks or just walking to the basket and laying up the ball.”
On one possession in the fourth, Kent Bazemore had plenty of time to just walk up and take a wide-open 3-pointer which he buried during the Warriors’ big run with 8:25 left in the fourth. Clippers center Serge Ibaka could only flail his hands in frustration as the Clippers called timeout.
“We just gotta dig deep,” George said when asked how the Clippers can keep blown leads from becoming a habit. “That’s what it comes down to, we just gotta dig deep as a group, and just rely on our team defense to help each other.”