|SLOW START CAN'T HALT CLIPPERS - ERIC PATTEN|
Seemingly each time the Clippers (4-2) appeared to be pulling away, Milwaukee (2-5) did something to stay within striking distance.
When Caron Butler, who scored 14 of his 20 points in the third quarter, made a 3-pointer from the left corner, Stephen Jackson answered with a 3-pointer of his own. When Chauncey Billups and Blake Griffin scored on consecutive possessions a few minutes later, Brandon Jennings responded with a three and step-back jumper on the baseline to get the Bucks within four.
In the end, though, the Clippers overcame 14 missed free throws, 44.9% shooting and Milwaukee’s final gasp, a long 3-pointer from Drew Gooden to pull his team within five with 37 seconds left.
“We’ll take the win,” Clippers head coach Vinny Del Negro said. “I’m not real pleased with the way we played. I thought we could play a lot better. Tonight the ball wasn’t going in for us and we relied more on our defense in the second half.”
Griffin finished with a game-high 22 points and 14 rebounds and Billups added 19 points. Jennings led Milwaukee with 21 points, seven assists and six rebounds.
“I thought Chauncey had a big second half for us,” Del Negro said. “Blake was very active up front. Caron made some big shots, so it was a good team effort. Mo Williams came in and did a good job for us.”
The Bucks, who were playing without Andrew Bogut (personal), Mike Dunleavy (groin), Luc Mbah a Moute (knee), and Beno Udrih (shoulder), led by two at halftime. But the Clippers used a 25-10 third-quarter flurry to take command.
“We made a few adjustments [at halftime], came out in that third quarter and made a couple shots that we were missing in the first half and defensively picked it up,” Billups said.
The start of the second half belonged to Griffin. He scored six-straight points in one stretch, powering through Ersan Ilyasova for a right-handed dunk against the shot clock. Then he spun into the lane after a head fake on the perimeter, drew a blocking foul from Jackson and banked in the shot. He missed the ensuing free throw, but 20 seconds later Paul stole a dribble handoff intended for Jennings and found Griffin streaking up the left side of the lane for a lob.
Billups drilled the next two shots off assists from Paul, who totaled seven for the game. Less than two minutes later, Griffin rose above Ilyasova again for what was likely his best dunk of the season, a ruthless right-handed slam that knocked Ilyasova to the ground and drew a foul.
“Midway through the third quarter they started getting up into us and getting their hands on balls,” Bucks head coach Scott Skiles said. “We turned it over a couple of times when we couldn’t afford to, but the guys battled back.”
The first half was marred by poor shooting. The Bucks opened the game 2-for-14 from the field, but the Clippers failed to take advantage despite jumping out to an early 8-1 lead. Milwaukee responded with a 10-3 mini run of their own.
It was perhaps more about the Clippers ineffectiveness than the Bucks’ offensive prowess. L.A. committed six turnovers in the quarter, including three by Paul.
In the final minute of the half, Ilyasova caught an alley oop from Jennings in transition, but a quick inbound to Billups turned into a fast-break dunk the other way. Billups quickly pushed it up the left side of the court to Griffin. Griffin drove past Jennings, who slipped, and dunked with two hands. It was a rare moment in the second quarter that the crowd of 19,229 had something to cheer about.
After the game, Paul said it’s important for a team to be able to grind out victories when things aren’t going their way.
“It’s not about the stat column,” Paul said. “It’s about the wins and loss column and we’ve got to pile up as many wins as possible.”
REGGIE EVANS DEBUTS
Forward Reggie Evans checked in for first time with 3:23 left in the first quarter, replacing DeAndre Jordan, and grabbed two offensive rebounds on the first possession and a defensive board on the next one. He finished with six rebounds and three points in 19 minutes. He was 1-for-6 from the free throw line.
Del Negro said he did not anticipate playing Evans as much, but it was necessitated when Jordan picked up his second foul.
“I just tried to do my thing and rebound and play defense,” Evans said. “You know, hoop and do my best to get a win.”
It was Evans’ first game with the Clippers after missing the team’s first five games with a foot injury.
“I was nervous to be honest with you, but it kind of felt good to have coach [Del Negro] put me in the game,” Evans added. “I was tired, to be honest with you.”
Billups went 7-for-7 from the line. He has not missed free throw this year (18-of-18)… “Wheel of Fortune” host Pat Sajak was among the 19,229 in attendance… It was the fourth straight sellout of the season… Bucks big man Jon Brockman left the game with a left eye contusion and did not return… The Bucks out-rebounded the Clippers 42-37… After Brian Cook made a layup with 9:14 to go in the quarter, the Clippers went 4:04 without a point. The stretch ended with two free throws from Billups… The Clippers have held opponents to fewer than 90 points in all four of their wins.