From his seat in Staples Center’s highest deck, Pablo Amaya was one of the most socially distanced fans in the arena Sunday on the night the Clippers welcomed fans back for the first time this season.
Feeling isolated was not an altogether unusual feeling. Born in Minnesota but raised in Riverside, Amaya said he is used to feeling like one of the only Timberwolves fans around. His reward Sunday for dressing up in a lime-green Minnesota jersey and shorts, putting his bleach-blond hair in two knots and driving downtown from the Inland Empire for his first live game in four years, was seeing his favorite team get drilled by the Clippers, 124-105.
“It was expected, especially when I looked at my phone and it said ‘Kawhi’s coming back,’” Amaya said, with a smile and shrug. “But yeah, I’m still having fun.”
It was worth it at all, he said, to be able to show up, alongside 1,733 others, to watch the Clippers play live in Los Angeles for the first time since March 8, 2020.
With force and precision, the Clippers’ offense showed up, too.
At times, as the Clippers were on their way to making 10 three-pointers in the second quarter, the team’s season high for any quarter this season, and a season-high 21 threes overall, there was as much space within Minnesota’s defense as there was in the purposefully distanced stands.
As Amaya’s instincts suggested, this was perhaps expected. The Timberwolves (15-44) entered owning the NBA’s worst three-point defense, opponents shooting 39% against them. That number will go up again after the Clippers shot 50% from deep.
Marcus Morris, one of the NBA’s most accurate three-point shooters this season, was left wide open in a rookie mistake by Timberwolves rookie Anthony Edwards, who had collapsed into the paint to help on a drive instead of sticking to Morris in the corner, who drilled the ensuing three-pointer.
Seconds later, Morris was chased by two defenders into the same corner and he made a three-pointer while fading away.
“I think we’re hitting on all cylinders,” guard Reggie Jackson said.
Kawhi Leonard, playing for the first time since April 9 because of a sore right foot, and under a minutes limit that saw his first-quarter minutes cut to eight minutes instead of his usual 12, needed only 23 minutes to score 15 points, grab 11 rebounds and dish eight assists.
Paul George saw his streak of 30-point games end at five games after he finished with 23 points, but he played only 27 minutes. All five starters scored in double figure, and because of it, all five starters were able to rest during the fourth quarter.
The Clippers are now 23-1 this season when scoring at least 120. The NBA’s best three-point offense is now 21-3 when making at least 16 three-pointers.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.