|CLIPPERS FALTER IN NEW YORK - ERIC PATTEN @ericpatten|
The final game of the regular season wasn’t exactly the best time to see how the Clippers would fare without superstar Chris Paul.
But with Paul sidelined for precautionary reasons with a mild groin strain, the Clippers struggled to generate offense until the final eight minutes and could not come back from an 18-point fourth-quarter deficit Wednesday in their 99-93 loss to the Knicks.
“We competed. We got down, but the guys battled back and got it to a one possession game,” Clippers head coach Vinny Del Negro said. “We gave ourselves a chance, so I’m pleased there.”
It was the third loss in the last four games for the Clippers (40-26), who will await the result of Thursday’s Grizzlies-Magic game to determine whether they will open the playoffs in Memphis or play host to Game 1.
“We’re not going to sit around and cry about it [potentially missing out on home court advantage] or sit around feel bad for ourselves,” Blake Griffin said after the game. “Not having CP [Paul] is tough for us. Randy Foye played extremely well. Eric Bledsoe came in and gave us great minutes. We just need to respond, wherever our first game is.”
Bledsoe started in place of Paul, who missed the game with a mild left groin strain, an injury he sustained during Tuesday’s loss to the Hawks. With the playoffs looming this weekend, keeping Paul out was more of a precautionary measure by Del Negro and the team’s medical staff.
Difference Maker: Steve Novak and J.R. Smith. With the Knicks holding the Clippers at bay behind a steady dose of Carmelo Anthony baskets and second-chance points, it was the 3-point shooting reserves who helped New York (35-30) build their double-digit lead. They combined to shoot 7-for-14 from distance with Smith canning to key shots in the final two minutes. He made a 3-pointer to stretch the lead to six after a Bledsoe layup on the other end and then knocked down a fade away over Kenyon Martin with 31 seconds left and the Clippers down just one.
Turning Point: The Clippers struggled to close quarters all evening, but the first 4:36 of the fourth quarter proved most costly. With an eight-point lead entering the quarter, the Knicks put together a 16-6 run capped by an alley oop from Smith to Landry Fields on the break.
Stat Line of the Night: Griffin had 29 points, 10 rebounds, six assists, and two steals for his 41st double-double. And put the Clippers on his back in the fourth quarter to lead the comeback. Prior to Smith’s fade away, Griffin drove on likely Defensive Player of the Year Tyson Chandler, and threw in a jump hook from 5-feet over a tough contest. The basket pulled L.A. to within one with 52 seconds remaining.
More Stats: Smith scored a team-high 21 points in 30 minutes off the bench, but the sometimes one-dimensional guard tallied five assists and four steals to lead the way for New York.
Foye matched his season-high with 28 points. He shot 4-of-12 from 3-point range and also made three free throws down the stretch after Smith fouled him on a 3-pointer as the 24-second clock wound down. With the Clippers trailing 96-93, they ran a flare screen for Foye to get a potentially game-tying shot from straightaway, but the Knicks double-teamed him and Foye’s pass into the lane got deflected by former Clipper Steve Novak.
Anthony, who finished the year averaging 22.7 points per game (his lowest since 2004-05), scored 17 points with six rebounds.
Hot: The Knicks bench. Fields, Smith, and Novak had all 43 bench points for the Knicks as they outscored the Clippers’ reserves by 23.
Not: Eric Bledsoe. Starting in place of Paul, Bledsoe struggled from the field and had a limited impact in other facets of the game. It was far from the dynamic effort he’s shown off the bench, wrecking havoc on opponents with his defensive energy and pace in transition. He had two points on 1-for-5 shooting and tallied just two of his five assists in the final three quarters.
On what the comeback attempt says about the team:
Blake Griffin: “We’ll fight no matter how much we’re down. I’m proud of the way our guys played [in the last eight minutes].”
On fourth quarter:
Tyson Chandler: “I told Coach I wanted to go back in. We lost the coverage a little bit defensively and guys started to get open. I wanted to calm my guys (down) a little bit.”
On final two games of regular season:
Vinny Del Negro: “We played two playoff teams. We didn’t play particularly well last night, we played better tonight and Chris [Paul] didn’t play. We have to regroup, go back home, see who we are playing, and go from there.”
On team shooting 14-of-25 (56%) from the foul line:
Griffin: “We’ve got to get better at that. It starts with me. Just get in the gym and keep working on them.”
On J.R. Smith:
Landry Fields: “J.R. made some big plays for us. Not only offensively, but defensively. He had a great game.”
Notes: Paul missed games in the regular season, including five in January with a strained hamstring. The Clippers went 3-3 without their All-Star point guard… Foye had 24 points last year in his only game at Madison Square Garden… The Clippers committed 14 turnovers without Paul, allowing 20 points… The Knicks shot 18-of-24 from the free throw line and 9-for-24 from 3-point range, while the Clippers made 11 of their 25 3-pointers and just 14 of their 25 free throws.
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