The win came after the Hornets led by as many as 14 points in the first half and had a 52-42 lead at halftime.
This is Williams’ second 40-point game of the season, following a season-high 42 points in a 120-115 win against the Los Angeles Lakers on Nov. 27. He also scored 40 off the bench as a member of the Lakers in a loss at Memphis on Dec. 3, 2016.
Sunday’s performance was the first time a player netted 40 off the bench in a win since Jordan Crawford (41) did so in a Golden State Warriors win over Denver in 2014.
Williams was consistent, scoring 20 points in each half. In the first quarter alone, he made 6 of 7 field goals, including 4 of 4 3s, for 16 points.
“I was just playing,” Williams said after the game. “Playing with confidence. I was able to get off to a good start, make the first few shots, and you know it just goes up from there. I was just playing with confidence.”
Williams also played the last 17:19 of the game without subbing out once, and he scored 15 of LA’s final 29 points of the game. Williams’ second-half performance came after he apparently lit into the second unit at halftime.
“What people don’t see, he let the second unit have it at halftime,” Clippers head coach Doc Rivers said. “I kind of stood out and waited for him to be finished, and he went a long time, he really rolled them. … He kept using the word ‘we,’ which I thought was very nice, you know. So he’s leading as well.”
Blake Griffin, who had 25 points in his second game back from a left knee injury, marveled at Williams’ leadership ability as well.
“He’s been unbelievable for us,” Griffin said of Williams, acquired via the Chris Paul trade this offseason from Houston. “I knew he could score and all that, but he’s been better than advertised, in my opinion. The thing that surprised me, too, I had a lot of respect for him as a player, but I didn’t know he was as good of a passer as he is. He scores the ball with ease. Obviously tonight is another example, but it never seems like he forces stuff — he’s always in control, which is impressive.”
Williams, the 2014-2015 Sixth Man of the Year award winner while with the Toronto Raptors, acknowledged that he had words for the Clippers backups after the first half. The Clippers had a 29-22 lead after the first quarter, but they struggled mightily in the second quarter, getting outscored 30-13 as Hornets point guard Kemba Walker finished the first half with 20 of his 30 points.
“We were up seven, and by time we came out, we were down three,” said Williams, a 13-year veteran. “I just think we had a lack of focus, we wasn’t playing hard. … We feel strongly about our second group. We’re a confident group of guys. I just felt kind of crazy that we were the group that dropped the lead.”
Hornets assistant Stephen Silas, filling in for head coach Steve Clifford, said his team had no answer for Williams, who shot 12-of-21 from the field, including 6-of-9 from 3, and 10-of-11 from the free throw line to go along with eight assists and only one turnover.
“Obviously Williams got going, and whenever they needed a big basket he provided it,” Silas said. “We changed our coverage, we started blitzing him, but then he was getting to the free throw line. But sometimes it’s a game of making some shots, and we didn’t shoot the ball well tonight.”
“He started hitting 3s early, so you start getting up on his screen and he starts driving to the rim,” backup Hornets power forward Frank Kaminsky said. “Then he’s getting fouled. He was just a nightmare tonight.”
The win left the Clippers with a record of 16-19. After losing nine straight games in November, the Clippers have won 11 of their past 19, leaving them 1.5 games out of eighth place in the Western Conference standings entering 2018.
“Hopefully we’ll get healthy over the next month or so, and we talk about it all the time, making this push,” Griffin said.