|CLIPPER GRIND OUT COMEBACK WIN IN RIP CITY - Eric Patten @ericpatten|
|There are nights in the NBA, particularly on the road, when winning can be a grind. For the Clippers, Thursday was just that.
They were confronted with an 18-point third-quarter deficit and a Rose Garden crowd spurring the wounded and worn out Trail Blazers. But thanks to a stellar second-half defensive effort and another close-out performance from Chris Paul, the Clippers pulled out a 74-71 victory to send Portland to its fourth consecutive home loss.
“We played terrible in the first half,” said Paul, who recovered from a 0-for-7 start to score all 13 of his points in the fourth. “On the road you just have to keep it close, and we gave ourselves an opportunity.”
The comeback was hardly the offensive spectacle that has become commonplace when the Pacific Division-leading Clippers (19-9) suit up. Instead, it was the kind of game when a play like Kenyon Martin’s tipped pass and behind-the-back save along the sideline or Blake Griffin’s defensive rotations to contest layup attempts were as big of a factor as any made basket.
Griffin still finished with his 19th double-double, scoring a game-high 21 points and 14 rebounds. But he said it was a matter of chipping away on the defensive end of the floor.
“I thought we did a great job down the stretch of staying with it and not getting discouraged,” Griffin said. “We played a steady game, and everybody hit shots and got stops defensively in the fourth.”
Portland’s 71 points were a season-low for a Clippers opponent. And playing without All-Star forward LaMarcus Aldridge (sprained ankle) they struggled after jumping out to a 27-20 first-quarter lead. The Trail Blazers (16-15) managed just 44 points over the next 36 minutes, including 11 points and four field goals in the fourth quarter.
“We knew they were going to be a little tired with their third game in three nights,” Griffin said. “Obviously, without LaMarcus it hurts them a lot. We just kept at it. Coach [Vinny] Del Negro kept telling us ‘In the fourth quarter—that’s when it’s going to happen,’ and that’s when we made our run.”
More than a few times Thursday night it looked like the Clippers had dug themselves too deep of a hole to escape the Rose Garden with a win.
They missed their first 14 shots from beyond the arc, finishing 2-for-17. And Paul was scoreless for three quarters and had more turnovers (four) than assists (three).
Then again, it was easy to forget his inaccuracy from the field when he drilled a baseline step-back jumper over Wes Matthews. Or hit another one over Nicolas Batum. Or when he grabbed a rebound, turned up court to lead a 4-on-2 fast break, turned and hit a trailing Mo Williams for a go-ahead 3-pointer from the left wing with 3:50 to go.
“I don’t know if he was playing possum or if he found the energy in the fourth quarter to keep going, but he definitely took over the game,” Portland guard Jamal Crawford said.
Crawford scored 19 points off the bench and at times kept the Trail Blazers afloat during the Clippers’ second-half surge. And fellow Sixth Man of the Year candidate Mo Williams bounced back from a subpar game on Wednesday to score 17 points, including the go-ahead 3-pointer, and six rebounds.
In the first quarter, Batum, who scored 33 points on Tuesday, opened the game scoring 15 of Portland’s first 22 points. And Crawford nailed a rainbow 3-pointer from straightaway to nab a seven-point lead as the quarter expired.
Batum had 19 points, but his hot start along with subpar energy and early foul trouble prevented the Clippers from keeping pace with Portland as they built a lead that hovered between 12 and 18 points.
DeAndre Jordan played most of the second half with four fouls, blocking three of his four shots during that stretch. Caron Butler was relegated to the bench for stretches with four fouls and Martin and Griffin tallied four and five fouls, respectively.
Williams followed with a pair of free throws for the Clippers and Matthews had one final chance. Down 74-70, the Portland swingman drove to the hoop and was fouled by Griffin on what appeared to be a clean block. He made the first free throw, missed the second, and jarred the ball loose from Martin on the rebound. After dribbling to the 3-point line in front of the Clippers bench, two defenders double-teamed him along the sideline and Matthews was forced to heave up a shot that caromed off the back of the rim with 0.5 left on the clock.
“It wasn’t our best performance, but we got the job done,” Del Negro said. “I liked our defense in the second half. We just grinded it out. Portland always plays tough up here. We were just able to get enough stops in the second half and control our rebounding. It was just one of those nights where both teams struggled a little bit shooting the ball and getting into things.”
It was the Clippers first win since 2002 when shooting under 40% and scoring fewer than 75 points… During TNT’s pregame show, Griffin was selected first overall by “Team Shaq” in the first-ever BBVA Rising Stars Challenge draft. The game will take place Friday, Feb. 24 as part of All-Star Weekend in Orlando… The Trail Blazers have lost four consecutive home games for the first time since 2006-07… Paul has recorded at least one steal in 32 games in a row.
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