Cleveland's lead over the Boston Celtics for first place in the Eastern Conference shrunk to 1.5 games in the loss, while the Clips bypassed the Oklahoma City Thunder and took sole possession of fifth place in the Western Conference.
The Cavs predictably struggled from the field with their three best players in street clothes, as they shot 38.6 percent overall and just 18.5 percent from beyond the arc.
Blake Griffin led all scorers with 23 points for the Clippers, while J.J. Redick added 16 points, and DeAndre Jordan contributed a double-double with 13 points and 17 rebounds.
All five Cavaliers starters scored in double figures, but none of them netted more than 11 points in defeat.
Love recently returned from a knee injury, and Irving left Cleveland's game Thursday due to knee tightness. Wanting to minimize risk, head coach Tyronn Lue also decided to sit James.
According to ESPN.com's Dave McMenamin, Lue said the decision didn't sit well with LeBron:
He wants to play. He was mad, but I just thought for him it was the right decision. Not to go out there and try to carry the whole load by himself and playing more minutes. I just think getting those two back tomorrow and getting on the same page is good for us, instead of just trying to play him when Kevin can't play in a back-to-back and Kyrie can't play in the back-to-back.
So it's tricky. He's pissed, but it's my decision, it's the medical staff's decision, and that's what we came up with.
James wasn't the only one upset about Cleveland's skeleton lineup, as Pro Football Hall of Famer Shannon Sharpe voiced his displeasure prior to the game:
shannon sharpe @ShannonSharpe
20 mins from Staples just found out Cavs big 3 isn't playing. Turn on you 📺 I'm fighting someone tonite. 😡😡😡😡 https://t.co/RG75Zu3sZe3/18/2017, 11:47:30 PM
The Cavs were clearly lacking in terms of offensive punch in the early going, but they still managed to outperform the Clips in the first quarter despite the latter boasting a full lineup.
Richard Jefferson even managed to turn back the clock at 36 years of age with an emphatic dunk to keep things close, as seen in this tweet courtesy of the NBA's official Twitter account:
RJ takes it baseline for the SLAM! @cavs lead @LAClippers 16-14 after 1 on #NBAonABC https://t.co/jgTs8fBW9p3/19/2017, 1:00:06 AM
The Cavaliers carried a 16-14 lead into the second quarter, which marked their best defensive start to a game all season long, per Jason Lloyd of TheAthletic.com:
Jason Lloyd @JasonLloydNBA
That's the fewest points Cavs have allowed in a first quarter all season. One point off being their low for any quarter this season3/19/2017, 1:01:04 AM
L.A. looked uninspired in the opening frame, and Sam Amico of Fox Sports Ohio suggested it was lacking passion:
Sam Amico @AmicoHoops
The folks at ABC are considerably more fired up about this game than the Clippers.3/19/2017, 1:01:34 AM
With the Clippers struggling to find their offensive groove, the Cavaliers attempted to take advantage early in the second quarter.
J.R. Smith did precisely that, as he went to work with a wide array of moves and got a friendly roll to tie the game at 20-20:
JR dances and gets the friendly roll on #NBAonABC! https://t.co/A59SmNroTr3/19/2017, 1:09:39 AM
With the score knotted at 24-24, Los Angeles finally worked its way out of the funk by going on a 13-0 run to take firm control.
That included the following trifecta to move Redick into the top 50 in NBA history in three-pointers made, per the Clippers' official Twitter account:
LA Clippers @LAClippers
Redick has moved past Mavs G/F Wesley Matthews (1,234) for No. 50 on the NBA's all-time 3-pointers made. https://t.co/HU2DtYEwLW3/19/2017, 1:26:58 AM
Jordan got to the line in the closing seconds of the half, and while he missed his second free throw, Griffin sent the Clips into the locker room with a ton of momentum by virtue of a putback slam:
LA Clippers @LAClippers
Halftime at Staples. LAC 47 | CLE 31 CP3: 4p/3r/5a JJ: 14p/1r/1a/1s BG: 10p/6r/1a DJ: 11p/11r/1s 📺: #NBAonABC https://t.co/diJMp8DIco3/19/2017, 1:43:42 AM
After getting outscored 33-15 in the second quarter, Cleveland attempted to keep the game from getting out of hand.
The pretty plays were few and far between for the Cavs without James, Irving and Love in the fold, but Channing Frye finished off a highlight-reel passing play with a three-ball early in the third quarter to keep the game within reach:
Smooth passing from @cavs leads to Frye from distance! #NBAonABC https://t.co/flSTEiofpb3/19/2017, 2:00:42 AM
L.A. managed to build slightly on the lead it carried into the second half, though, due largely to the play of Griffin.
The five-time All-Star scored 13 of the Clippers' 29 points in the quarter, and even showed off his shooting range:
Blake is up to 13 points in the 3rd on #NBAonABC. https://t.co/Mu84CLyzD83/19/2017, 2:11:45 AM
With the game well in hand for Los Angeles, both teams emptied the bench in the fourth quarter and got their reserves some playing time.
That included potential future Hall of Famer Paul Pierce, who showed there's still some spring left in his legs with a powerful dunk:
LA Clippers @LAClippers
"Give me that!" - @paulpierce34😎 https://t.co/HOVkVT1OGF3/19/2017, 2:36:17 AM
While the Clippers got off to a slow start Saturday, their shooting improved significantly as the game went on, and they imposed their will on a Cavaliers team completely lacking star power.
The inside combination of Griffin and Jordan clicked, but Chris Paul missed all eight of his attempts from the field and finished with just five points.
That is somewhat disconcerting for a team that was just 5-8 since the All-Star break entering Saturday's game.
Despite the circumstances surrounding it, the win was a big one for the Clippers in their hunt for a top-four seed and home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
Little was expected out of the Cavs on Saturday, but the loss makes every game hugely important down the stretch if they want to maintain their spot atop the Eastern Conference.
For me it's tough because we started to get in a good rhythm defensively, offensively and the biggest thing is if they play tomorrow then everybody will be back and we can kind of start building, everybody will be building going forward.
So if they were to play tonight, Kevin is out and then it's tomorrow. So just kind of having our whole team back together tomorrow will be big for us but every time we seem to catch a rhythm or get something good going, something happens.
Clippers head coach Doc Rivers was well-aware of the fact that he was handed a gift by Lue, and he made light of it following the win, per ESPN's Jovan Buha:
Jovan Buha @jovanbuha
Doc Rivers opens his press conference with, "I'd like to thank Ty Lue. He's my favorite coach."3/19/2017, 3:06:18 AM
Griffin was also in a jovial mood, as he gave Pierce credit for busting out a surprising dunk in the fourth quarter, according to Caden Kinard of Clippers.com:
Caden Kinard @cadenkinard
Blake Griffin on Paul Pierce's dunk, "Out of 10? I'd give it a 9, because he's so old."3/19/2017, 3:17:53 AM
The Cavaliers' lack of scoring punch allowed L.A. to rest its players late in the game as well, which could give it an edge as it moves toward the regular season's stretch run.