|CLIPPERS CLOSE OUT THUNDER IN COMEBACK |
- ERIC PATTEN @ericpatten
Three weeks ago when asked how often he would seemingly will his team to victory in the fourth quarter, Chris Paul defiantly said, "As many times as it takes."
Chalk Wednesday night's performance against the Oklahoma City Thunder as another one of those times.
Paul was every bit the league's best closer in front of the loud Chesapeake Energy Arena faithful, darting to the rim between shot blockers, knocking down mid-range jumpers, and outdueling Kevin Durant down the stretch as the Clippers knocked off the Thunder, 100-98, for their ninth win in 11 games.
Paul's finishing blow came with 8.8 seconds remaining on a tough basket between three Thunder defenders. As the shot clock trickled to five seconds, he weaved around Kendrick Perkins and Russell Westbrook and threw the ball up for a right-handed layup before Serge Ibaka, the NBA's leader in blocks, could get there.
"It's a big win for us in a hostile environment," Paul said. "[It was a] playoff type atmosphere where we had to make adjustment after adjustment."
The win kept the Clippers (35-23) 0.5 games ahead of the Grizzlies in fourth place in the Western Conference, while they remain 1.5 games behind the Lakers, who beat the Spurs Wednesday, for third. Oklahoma City (42-16) retains the best record in the conference, but fell for the second time in three tries to the Clippers.
Difference Maker: Paul with an exclamation point. He scored 24 of his 31 points in the second half, including nine of L.A.'s final 11.
His game-winning hoop was arguably only his second most impressive play in the final three possessions. After getting stifled by the Thunder defense, he tossed up a double-clutch shot between Perkins and Thabo Sefolosha with the shot clock winding down. The ball caromed off the rim, but Paul, the smallest player on the court, tracked it down for one-handed tip in to give the Clippers a 98-93 lead.
Turning Point: Griffin and Paul were marvelous in the third quarter, combining for 22 of the Clippers' 28 points, but it was another monstrous dunk from Griffin that seemed to alter the tenor of the game. Following a Westbrook free throw, Griffin drove down the right side of the lane and dunked with his right hand over and around Ibaka. The play clearly energized the Clippers, Griffin skied for a defensive rebound on the next possession and Paul cut the Oklahoma City lead to two points on a 5-footer.
Turning Point 2: With the Thunder leading for nearly the entirety of the first 36 minutes, Randy Foye drilled a corner 3-pointer to put the Clippers ahead, 85-84, with 8:35 remaining in the fourth. Foye's shot, off a pass from Eric Bledsoe, gave L.A. its first lead since a Jordan layup made it 8-6 in the first quarter.
Stat Line of the Night: Paul. He had 31 points on 11-for-20 shooting, made two of his four shots from beyond the arc, and all seven of his free throws. Combine that with four assists, six rebounds, two steals, and disrupting the supremely athletic Westbrook on the defensive end and it was possible one of his best three performances in a season full of great ones.
More Stats: Griffin had a much better return to his hometown. After managing a career-low seven points in late March, he flirted with his third-career triple-double Wednesday, scoring 16 points to go with 12 rebounds and seven assists.
Kenyon Martin, averaging 4.9 points on the season, scored 12 points off the bench on a series of jump hooks and plays at the rim. He also keyed the Clippers defense in the fourth quarter, including a blocked shot against Durant.
Nick Young was unable to get going from outside, but forced the issue by getting to the free-throw line five times and making four. He had 11 points off the bench in 27 minutes and made a steal in the final two minutes that led to a breakaway layup.
Durant and Westbrook were held in check for the most part. The duo scored 42 points combined on 10-for-35 shooting. Durant pulled down nine rebounds and Westbrook had seven assists, but it was offset by a combined six turnovers.
Not: Westbrook. He went just 3-for-14 from the floor and 1-for-5 from 3-point range. He slightly made up for it by going 13-for-15 from the line, but was taken out of the game by a wealth of Clipper defenders, primarily Bledsoe and Paul on the ball with guys like Jordan, Griffin, and Martin acting as a backstop.
On team's performance and importance of the win:
Blake Griffin: "That was a great win for us. We needed that, and we hung together and pulled it out. This is a hostile environment and a really tough place to play, so to come in here and get a win against a good team in this building is big for us."
Chris Paul: "We haven't locked up a spot yet [in the playoffs], but that's what we're trying to do."
On Chris Paul:
Vinny Del Negro: "He has that competitive edge on just about everything. The play that shows how tough and competitive he is the when he split the defender and threw it up off the glass and then tipped it in."
Scott Brooks: "He's a good player. He's one of the best point guards in basketball and he was getting opportunities to score for himself. We didn't do a good job of taking the ball out of his hands and he was making some shots, that's what Chris does. He's always been a terrific second half player and in fourth quarters you know you're going to have to play your best basketball to stop him from scoring and he had a great game."
On defense on final possessions of the game:
DeAndre Jordan: "We knew going in that we would have to switch every pick and roll. Kevin Durant got the ball and started going into his move. I just wanted to time it and give it a good contest. I was not trying to block it or give up a foul."
On Clippers' 52 points in the paint:
Kevin Durant: "They are a paint team – Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan, and Chris Paul they get there. It was tough for us to cover tonight."
Notes: It was Paul's fifth effort of 30 points or more this season. The Clippers are 4-1 in such games...The Thunder shot 12-of-26 from 3-point range. Their 46.2% from distance was 8.2% better than they shot from the 2-point range...The Clippers out-scored the Thunder 52-32 in the paint...Mo Williams missed his 11th game in a row with a sprained left big toe. He said he expects to play Thursday at Minnesota..."I'm excited. I think our guys are playing great," said Chauncey Billups, who was a guest studio host on ESPN's halftime show.
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