LOS ANGELES — It’s long been a thing for the crowd here, the fashionably late L.A. fans. But on Sunday, the Clippers’ players also opted to show up after the start time.
For 12 minutes, the Knicks were everything that they could have imagined, piling up 45 points and a 16-point lead in the first quarter. Then reality set in.
The Clippers came (late), saw and conquered, needing less than a quarter to wipe out all the good the Knicks had accomplished.
Even without Kawhi Leonard, who was resting with knee maintenance, the Clippers scored 47 points in the second quarter, went ahead by 15 late in the third quarter and hung on for a 135-132 victory at Staples Center.
Marcus Morris, playing against a team rumored to be interested in trading for him, scored a career-high 38 points, including a jumper with 10.4 seconds remaining that brought the Knicks within 133-130. But Lou Williams hit two free throws with 9.3 seconds to play for a five-point lead.
Montrezl Harrell had 34 points and Williams and Paul George added 32 each for the Clippers, who went ahead 121-108 with 7:26 left before the Knicks scored 10 straight points.
“That’s a championship team,” Morris said. “For us to come with that type of intensity, that game plan and to play as hard as we did was good for us. We’re taking steps each and every game, and I think guys will tell you that we’re getting better each game.”
The Knicks played without Elfrid Payton, who flew to Phoenix to play Friday night after being home for the birth of his first child. He then flew home and did not return for Sunday’s game.
Knicks interim coach Mike Miller said he was uncertain whether Payton will be back for Tuesday night's game against the Lakers.
That put Frank Ntilikina back in the starting lineup, and with Dennis Smith Jr. out with an oblique strain, Kadeem Allen was the only other point guard on the roster. But the Clippers were without Leonard and were dealing with issues of their own after being blown out by the Memphis Grizzlies on Saturday.
RJ Barrett (24 points) was 4-for-4, including a three-pointer, as the Knicks shot 76 percent (19-for-25) in the first quarter. Their 45 points matched a franchise record for most first-quarter points (March 11, 1978, against the Nets) and was the most in any quarter this season by the Knicks.
But the 45-29 first quarter was outdone by a 47-24 second period in favor of the Clippers (26-12). The frustration showed as the Knicks (10-26) were called for three technical fouls in the second quarter and four in the game.
“The biggest thing that comes to mind right now is I loved the effort. The fight, the scrap, to have to come back against obviously a high-level team,” Miller said. “It was one of the wilder games that I’ve been a part of, with a big first quarter, then it flips, it’s a big second quarter. And to come back and have a chance. The effort, the grit, that we showed to stay in the game and put ourselves in a position at the end to get a win, I’m really proud of this group.”