|CLIPPERS CAN'T COME BACK IN ATLANTA - ERIC PATTEN @ericpatten|
Blake Griffin and Chris Paul combined for 70 of the Clippers' 102 points against the Atlanta Hawks Tuesday, but not much else went right for L.A. on a night when its chances at a first-ever Pacific Division title slipped away.
The Clippers made a late charge, attempting to come back from a double-digit deficit for the 15th time this year. However, Joe Johnson's six 3-pointers were too much to overcome and the Clippers fell, 109-102, in Atlanta.
"I didn't think we were very good tonight," said Clippers head coach Vinny Del Negro, who was visibility agitated after the game. "I didn't think we were hungry. I don't' think we were physical enough. We got a couple of good scoring performances from our star players and that was about it."
After Griffin dunked in a missed layup by Paul to cut Atlanta's lead to 100-96, Johnson retrieved a loose ball near the sideline as the shot-clock expired and heaved in a 31-foot 3-point bank shot. The basket gave the Hawks (39-26) a seven point lead with 37 seconds to go, effectively stymieing the Clipper rally for good.
It was the first of consecutive road games to close the regular season for the playoff-bound Clippers (40-25). The loss handed the division to the Lakers, who own the season tiebreaker over the Clippers. It also means the Clippers will face the Memphis Grizzlies in the opening round of the postseason. Home-court advantage will be determined over the next two days. The Clippers will host games one and two with a win in New York Wednesday or if Memphis loses Thursday against the Magic.
Difference Maker: Johnson seemingly made a basket every time the Hawks needed it. He twice put Atlanta up by seven in the final two minutes with 3-pointers and finished the game with 28 points, including 6-of-9 from behind the arc, and seven rebounds. He also caused matchup problems on both ends for the Clippers with his 6-foot-7 frame often matched up against a 6-foot-1 Mo Williams or taking advantage of switches on the pick-and-roll that drew Griffin away from the basket.
Turning Point: With the game tied at 70, the Clippers had a 3-on-1 fast break after Mo Williams tipped the ball away from Johnson. Griffin grabbed it and immediately passed back to Williams, who lobbed it to Griffin. The ball came down towards the cylinder and Griffin dunked it home. However, the officials ruled it basket interference. The Hawks ran off 15 of the next 17 points to close the quarter behind hot shooting from Josh Smith and Jeff Teague.
Stat Line of the Night: Griffin. The power forward scored a season-high 36 points on 16-of-22 shooting and eight rebounds. He did it with an array of moves, including a 22-footer, several jumpers from the free-throw line extended, a step-through dunk, and a variety of jump hooks.
"Those are shots he gets," Del Negro said of Griffin's perimeter looks. "He was making his jump shots, but we need more than that [from other guys]."
More Stats: Paul. As usual, the MVP candidate was brilliant, scoring 34 points on 10-of-20 from the field, 4-of-6 from 3-point range, and 10-of-11 from the line (his second game with 10 or more free-throw attempts). He added eight assists, five rebounds and two steals.
Jeff Teague. Like Paul, Teague's a Wake Forest alum, and somewhat like a miniature counterpart, Teague took over the game at times. He scored seven points in a row during Atlanta's run to close the third quarter and finished with 21 points.
Marvin Williams. The backup forward finished with 11 points, all in the first half. But he was a key member of the Hawks bench, which outscored the Clippers, 32-19.
Hot: Griffin. He made eight of his first nine shots for 16 first-quarter points and went 10-for-13 from the field in the first half and 2-for-2 from the line.
Not: Clippers not named Griffin or Paul. Other than the Clippers' All-Star duo, the seven players who played at least 10 minutes scored 29 points on 12-of-36 shooting (33.3%).
On the game:
Blake Griffin: "We have to do a better job not letting teams get out to leads. We also made some careless mistakes down the stretch. Our effort could have been better. We just have to forget about it and turn around a get a win tomorrow. No matter the situation heading into tomorrow night, we're going to play to win."
On trying to win home-court advantage in the first round:
Griffin: "We'd obviously love to have home-court advantage. But no matter what cards are dealt in the playoffs we'll be ready."
On Griffin's performance:
Larry Drew: "The focus and the commitment of our guys to not get discouraged early with Blake Griffin. We made the decision to defend him the way we decided to defend him, and he made shots. We could have very easily panicked at that time, and started trying to double-team him and take the ball out of his hands."
On Griffin and Paul:
Josh Smith: "We came in at halftime, and we saw their numbers, but we also saw everybody else's numbers. Being able to cut everybody else's water off was definitely beneficial because we didn't want everybody else getting a good rhythm for tonight's game. I don't think anybody else scored in double figures other than Chris Paul and Blake Griffin."
Notes: It was the Clippers fourth loss in their last 17 games...The Clippers failed to come back from 1 13-point deficit. Entering the game, they had rallied from double-digit deficits 14 times this season... A win in New York would secure the first winning record on the road since the Clippers moved to Los Angeles. They are currently 16-16 away from home... Atlanta grabbed 42 rebounds (14 offensive) compared to 35 for the Clippers. The Hawks also managed 23 second-chance points to 11 for L.A.
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