|HOT SHOOTING SNAPS CLIPPERS SLIDE AGAINST ATLANTA |
- ERIC PATTEN @ericpatten
LOS ANGELES–All it took was a hot shooting night and tired Atlanta Hawks team for the Clippers to get things back on track.
After losing four of their previous five games, L.A. shot 54.3% from the field and got 45 points off the bench as they never trailed in Wednesday’s 96-82 victory at Staples Center.
The Clippers (24-17) opened the game scoring 30 points in the first quarter for just the second time in nine games, including making their first seven shots from the field. The Hawks (24-19), who lost in overtime in Denver the previous night, struggled to match the Clippers’ energy. And it showed late as the Clippers bench, led by Mo Williams, outlasted Atlanta’s starters.
“We got out to somewhat of an early lead and kind of stuck with it,” Blake Griffin said. “They got back into it a little bit there in the fourth I think it was, but we did a pretty good job of not letting up, not letting it get tied, and not letting it go down to the wire obviously.”
Difference Maker: Williams was a catalyst for the Clippers’ bench performance along with Reggie Evans and Eric Bledsoe. But it was Williams’ scoring that helped keep the Hawks at bay. He threw in a game-high 25 points on 9-of-18 shooting, including 3-of-5 from 3-point range.
“We put a lot of pressure on this game,” Williams said. “We really needed this one really badly, so we came out and played. We played a good team tonight; they’re a hard matchup, especially with their big guards.”
Turning Point: With just under seven minutes to go in the fourth quarter and five reserves in the game, All-Star Chris Paul, who finished with 13 points and nine assists, approached the scorer’s table to check back in. Tracy McGrady had just knocked down a 3-pointer to cut the Clippers’ lead to six and head coach Vinny Del Negro said he wanted to get Paul in to manage the end of the game. In a matter of 21 seconds, Williams hit a 3-pointer and Bledsoe stole a pass from McGrady. After Williams missed a 14-foot pull-up jumper, Evans snared the rebound and put it back in, drawing a foul, and extending the lead to 11.
Stat Line of the Night: Eric Bledsoe. The second-year guard played arguably his best stretch of the season since returning from a torn meniscus in late January. He scored 14 points, including two fast-break dunks and two 3-pointers, swiped four steals, and blocked two shots.
More Stats: Blake Griffin. Thanks to a superb performance by the bench, Griffin rested for a long stretch in the second half, playing 33 minutes (almost four below his season average). He had 12 points with 10 rebounds and four assists for his 26th double-double of the year.
Josh Smith. A night after scoring 33 points, the high-flying Hawks forward appeared off to a similar start, tallying 11 points in the first quarter. He finished with just 18 points, playing most of the first half with three fouls, but filled the stat sheet with three steals, four assists, six rebounds, and a chase-down block of a Williams layup attempt.
Reggie Evans. He’s becoming somewhat of a cult hero at Staples Center. Evans scored just six points, but had 10 rebounds in 21 minutes, and energized the crowd with hustle plays on both ends of the floor.
Hot: The Clippers offense. They bookended the game with a 30-point first quarter and 25-point fourth, never trailed, made their first seven shots, and closed the game by building up a 16-point lead in the final two minutes. It didn’t hurt that they shot 54.3% for the game, including 10-of-20 3-point shots.
Not: Kirk Hinrich. Starting in place of the injured Marvin Williams (hip), Hinrich attempted just five shots, making one, and turned the ball over twice. He was the only Hawks starter in single digits scoring.
On the bench performance:
Vinny Del Negro: “I thought the bench gave us a huge lift. With this schedule, we are going to need that. We were able to keep our starters minutes down a little bit, which is great.”
Eric Bledsoe: “The group as a whole has great hustle players like Reggie, a great defender in Bobby [Simmons], and Mo, who’s a terrific scorer. We just go out there and try to feed off Mo on the offensive end and me, Reggie, and Bobby just do what we do on defense.”
On defending Mo Williams:
Joe Johnson: “They have a lot of pieces. We pay so much attention to their inside presence and Chris Paul running the pick and roll, [Williams] basically went out there and was shooting darts.”
On hearing crowd chant “Reg-gie, Reg-gie”:
Reggie Evans: “Oh yeah. You hear it. When you’ve got 20-some thousand people saying your name you’re going to hear it. No question about it.”
Notes: The Clippers recorded their 20th sellout of the season and 38th straight overall… The team is 4-0 in the month of March when Caron Butler scores in double figures. He had 13 points on Wednesday… By holding the Hawks to 82 points, the Clippers moved to 17-3 when holding their opponent to 96 points or fewer… The Clippers snapped a two-game losing streak. They have not lost three games in a row this season… The win also ended a four-game losing streak to Atlanta.
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