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CLIPPERS

Clippers give up 19-point lead, lose to Cleveland, 87-83

LeBron James records his second straight triple-double with 32 points, 13 rebounds and 11 assists.

March 11, 2009|Lisa Dillman

First, LeBron James tried to wake up his slumbering teammates, calling them together for a motivational chat at halfcourt just before the second half started against the Clippers.

He followed through with action a few minutes later.

Watching James wake up and roar to life in the third quarter and hit full flight by the fourth was one part inspiring and one part unsettling Tuesday night at Staples Center. He had 32 points, including 20 in the second half, 11 assists and 13 rebounds as the Cavaliers rallied to beat the Clippers, 87-83.

It was all deeply unnerving for the rattled Clippers. They collapsed under the force of his will and their own mental and physical mistakes, blowing a 19-point lead, which they had in the fourth quarter. But Cleveland steadily chipped away, and the Clippers faded away into the night.

Mo Williams made a three-pointer with 6.6 seconds remaining to put Cleveland ahead, 85-83. This came after it looked as if the Clippers had the chance to salvage matters when Al Thornton's three-pointer with 29.7 seconds left gave them an 83-82 lead.

It was not to be a sequel to the Boston game. Same as it ever was for the Clippers.

"I wish I had an answer for what happened tonight," said the Clippers' Baron Davis, who had 12 points and six assists. "We're up 15 to 17 points and we have to figure out how to close it out.

"We started looking over at the sidelines for Coach to save us. We've got to get to the point where we keep being aggressive."

There would be no lifeline from Coach Mike Dunleavy, or anyone else.

This was nearly the bookend to their taut victory against the Kevin Garnett-less Celtics on Feb. 25. The Clippers led by 10 points as late as 5:21 left in the game, but by the time the Cavaliers tied it at 80-80 with 1 1/2 minutes left, a Clippers loss seemed inevitable.

They received a combined 40 points from Zach Randolph and Thornton, and rookie Eric Gordon added 14 points.

Randolph and Thornton had ample emotional motivation on wildly different scales. Randolph has been dealing with the death of his father after a sudden illness last week, traveling between Los Angeles and Indiana. This was his last game before his father's funeral Saturday.

Thornton, on the other hand, was singled out by Clippers owner Donald Sterling on March 2 after a loss to San Antonio. Sterling called Thornton selfish, and wanted to do the same to Baron Davis, who, as it turned out, wisely has his dressing area tucked away in the corner where the owner didn't happen to see him.

But that was so last week.

The script rarely stays static in an ever-changing Clippers world. Not only did Chris Kaman (strained arch/left foot) return to the lineup for the first time since Nov. 26, there was another, bigger surprise unveiled against Cleveland.

Marcus Camby (ear infection/migraines) was able to play, meaning the Clippers and Dunleavy finally had their three-big men vision fulfilled, of Camby, Kaman and Randolph all appearing deep into the same game.

They did briefly play in the same game Nov. 26 but that hardly counted as Kaman played limited minutes and limped off into the sunset as weeks of ice, treatment and testing turned into months of the same.

The thought was to give Kaman about 20 minutes or so against the Cavaliers, and he ended up playing nearly 30, going three for 11 with six points and four rebounds and four turnovers.

"It's obviously disappointing to play as well as we did in the first three quarters and not finish the game strong," Dunleavy said.

Dunleavy blamed himself for playing people who were out of shape (read: Kaman), saying it was hard not to do so in the last frantic moments.

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lisa.dillman@latimes.com

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