LOS ANGELES (AP) — Off to an 8-1 start in March, the Los Angeles Clippers are rolling toward the playoffs, something critics figured they were giving up on after trading leading scorer Tobias Harris and making other moves in February.
Instead, they’re holding onto the eighth and final playoff berth in the Western Conference and within reach of a higher seed.
Danilo Gallinari scored 24 points, Montrezl Harrell had 20 points and 12 rebounds, and the Clippers beat Indiana 115-109 on Tuesday night, preventing the Pacers from clinching a playoff berth.
“The roster changes definitely helped us in many ways,” said rookie Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, who scored on back-to-back layups when the Clippers led by four points with 2½ minutes to go and the shot clock winding down.
“The clock gave me no choice,” he said. “I just wanted to be aggressive and make something happen.”
Clinging to a 110-107 lead, Lou Williams hit a pullup jumper with 40 seconds left to stop a 5-0 run by Indiana.
Tyreke Evans answered with a layup that again drew the Pacers within three.
After a timeout, Bojanc Bogdanovic slipped defending Patrick Beverley, who scored and then made a rolling dice motion.
Bogdanovic slipped again on the Pacers’ final possession and they failed to score over the final 33 seconds.
“Just not enough,” Indiana coach Nate McMillan said. “We’ve got to get sharper with our execution, got to get stronger with the basketball. Got to make plays. We’ve got to make our breaks.”
Evans and Bogdanovic scored 19 points each for the Pacers, whose road skid extended to seven straight games. Doug McDermott added 17 points and Domantas Sabonis had 13 points and a career-high-tying 16 rebounds playing the second night of a back-to-back.
“These teams are good teams, playoff teams,” Pacers guard Wesley Matthews said. “They are what we are gearing ourselves up for and we have to do a better job.”
The Clippers led by 17 early in the fourth only to see the Pacers close within five. Gallinari re-entered the game and promptly hit a 3-pointer that ended Indiana’s 16-7 run.
Beverley made a 3-pointer and Gallinari and Gilgeous-Alexander combined to make four straight free throws that extended the Clippers’ lead to 106-97.
Los Angeles closed the third by scoring eight straight points to lead 89-75 going into the fourth.
Pacers: G Darren Collison (right quad contusion) missed his first game of the season after starting the previous 71. … It’s their longest road losing streak since dropping eight in a row from March 6-April 2, 2017. … They had won five in a row against the Clippers.
Clippers: Beat Indiana at home for the first time since Dec. 17, 2014. … Prevented the Pacers from sweeping the season series for a third straight year. … Four of their final 10 regular-season games are against Milwaukee, Houston, Golden State and Utah. The Bucks and Warriors have already clinched spots.
THE DOC IS IN
Rivers denied rumors before the game that he’s interested in leaving to coach the Lakers.
The Lakers are 31-39 under coach Luke Walton, whose job status is widely believed to be in jeopardy.
Rivers and Clippers owner Steve Ballmer agreed to a shorter contract extension last year that included an opt-out after this season. However, Rivers said that’s being replaced with a long-term deal.
“Straight and upfront, I’m going to be here until Steve says ‘Get out,'” he said.
HE SAID IT
“It’s the West. You let down, you’re out.” — Rivers.
Pacers: Visit Golden State on Thursday to end four-game Western swing.
Clippers: At Cleveland on Friday to open a four-game Eastern trip.