CLIPPERS DENY WOLVES, EDGE CLOSER TO PLAYOFFS |
- RYAN MENEZES
Chris Paul walked to the bench with a little less than three minutes left in the game and gave everyone in the Clippers traveling cavalry a high five.
A night ago, he had to carefully plan out each of the Clippers final possessions in a thrilling win over the Western Conference-leading Thunder. Thursday night in Minneapolis, Paul got a nice rest at the end of a 95-82 win over the Timberwolves.
There was no let down after the Clippers (36-23) pulled out an emotional win in Oklahoma City the night before, a message Paul preached, then practiced.
"We knew that we were playing for something," Clippers guard Mo Williams said. "This team [Minnesota] is not playing for anything. We couldn't let this game get away. CP [Paul] reinforced that all day. He was just letting us know we're playing for something, we're not going to lose to this team four times."
Indeed, the Clippers won their first game of the season against Minnesota (25-35), who still won the season series 3-1. This Minnesota team, however, was missing regular rotation players Ricky Rubio, Kevin Love, Darko Milicic and Luke Ridnour.
The No. 4 Clippers moved within a game of the Lakers for the No. 3 seed in the West and the Pacific Division lead. A Grizzlies loss later in the night also gave the Clippers a little breathing room, keeping 1.5 games distance between them and the No. 5 spot.
"You get bored when you're sitting over there watching the game," Williams said. "I'm always hungry, I'm always sleepy, but it's real exciting when you get back on the floor man."
Turning Point: After the Timberwolves led for most of the first half and even scrapped when down 13 to cut it to a three-point game, a 9-0 Clippers run at the beginning of the fourth quarter gave them all the breathing room they needed.
A key for the Clippers in the second half was improved defense. JJ Barea and Anthony Randolph, forced into heavy minutes due to the significant number of Minnesota injuries, got the looks they wanted while Minnesota hung around with the Clippers, but that changed after halftime.
Stat Line of the Night: Blake Griffin had another well-rounded line, posting 19 points, 13 rebounds and five assists on 9-of-16 shooting.
More Stats: Paul had a relatively pedestrian day, one game after doing all the heavy lifting, scoring 8 points and dishing out eight assists in 29 minutes. It was just the fifth time this season Paul didn't score in double-digits.
DeAndre Jordan grabbed 12 rebounds and blocked three shots. He also scored four points, including a finger roll off a dribble drive.
Kenyon Martin had eight points while hitting all four of his shot attempts, three of them on powerful dunks. One was a tip slam and two were on the finishing end of lob plays his younger, bouncier teammates are known for.
"I still got it," Martin said. "I might be the old guy but I can still jump a little bit."
Hot: Caron Butler, who tied a career high with five 3-pointers. Butler had 17 points on 6-of-13 shooting and 5-of-8 from beyond the arc.
Not: Derrick Williams. The highly effective reserve was forced into a start with Love held out due to a concussion. The rookie shot just 1-of-7, tallying four points, and was frequently exploited by the Clippers for his ineffectiveness guarding Griffin in the post.
On paying attention to the playoff picture:
Griffin: "You definitely know what the team ahead of you and behind you are doing. Our main focus though is still trying to win games.
Whatever happens behind us and ahead of us happens. The only thing we can control is ourselves."
On the defensive effort after halftime:
Mo Williams: "We really just picked our energy up. That was a focus in the locker room [at halftime]."
On beating the Timberwolves for the first time this season:
Martin: "No matter who they had on the court, we wanted to come out and be aggressive on the defensive end, which I think we did."
On returning from injury:
Williams: "I know injuries are a part of the game and you have to be smart about it. I give credit to the training staff, the coaching staff, for making sure everything was ok for me to get through the game and I felt real good."
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