|CLIPPERS / JAZZ RECAP |
- RYAN MENEZES
LOS ANGELES–A little bit of history was handed to the Clippers when they saw 20 games packed into the 31 days of March, the first time an NBA team has had to play that many games in a month in 45 years.
They ended March by redefining a little history of their own, beating the Jazz, 105-96, on Saturday night at Staples Center, and earning their first five-game winning streak since November 2006.
It was a near wire-to-wire win, their seventh straight at home, as the Clippers got off to a fast start and showed no signs of letting up.
“They made a couple runs here and there but for the most part we kept our defense consistent and every time it got close somebody made a big shot and a big play,” Chris Paul said.
They closed out a perfect five-game home stand and will carry that momentum into a week that features games against the Mavericks and Lakers, both crucial to the conference standings.
Difference Maker: Eric Bledsoe, who was forced into action with the game in a precarious situation. The Jazz had cut a 12-point halftime deficit to five when Chris Paul bruised his right elbow and had to leave the game with just under eight minutes in the third quarter. Paul wouldn’t return for the rest of the quarter, but Bledsoe energized the Clippers with his speed and helped the Clippers regain control of the game. Bledsoe chipped in five quick points in one stretch that had the Clippers back up by 14. Paul would return at the 11:00 mark of the fourth quarter with the game in the Clippers’ hands.
“You’ve got to prepare,” Bledsoe said. “I came back from injury and I’ve been working out and working on my game. I was always ready for the moment. When the moment came, Chris got hurt a little bit, so I tried to just fill the role and keep the lead and tempo going.”
Turning Point: The opening 12 minutes of the game, when the Clippers could not miss a basket. They shot a blistering 68.2 percent from the field in the first quarter, hitting 6 of their 8 3-point tries. The Jazz weren’t able to keep up and fell behind by 16.
“That set the tone for us,” Clippers head coach Vinny Del Negro said. “They made a couple of runs, but we withstood it. Overall, I thought our ball movement was good.”
Stat Line of the Night: Blake Griffin had a well-rounded line of 24 points on 10-of-16 shooting, eight rebounds and six assists, his third-highest assist total in a game this season. It was the power forward’s seventh straight game with 20 points or more.
More Stats: Paul, who had his streak of 55 games with at least one steal snapped, was undeterred by his elbow injury and came back in the game to finish with 26 points and 6 assists. His return to the game was marked by a play that elicited plenty of “oohs” from the crowd, when he stutter-stepped and dribbled between his legs on a fast break and finished with a gliding layup.
Nick Young had his best shooting game as a Clipper, hitting 5-of-10 shots and two 3-pointers for a team-high 13 bench points.
Randy Foye also made the Jazz pay for a couple of late rotations defensively by hitting five of his 12 shots, including three 3-pointers. Foye had 17 points and was one of three Clippers with six assists.
Al Jefferson led the Jazz with 26 points, most coming via his wide arsenal of post moves that gave Clippers center DeAndre Jordan trouble defensively.
Hot: Blake Griffin, the distributor. Griffin had racked up six assists before Paul could even notch one, a key reason the Clippers got off to the fast start that they did. Griffin was able to see over the defense and find his shooters, who were knocking down open shots, imperative to the aforementioned ball movement that spurred the Clippers early.
“It’s always great to play a complete game (as a team) and not rely on CP to make a play or Randy [Foye] to hit a big shot like we did last night,” Griffin said. “Like I said last night, a win’s a win. We’ll take them any way we can get them. But yeah, it feels great to kind of take control of one early and not really let up.”
Not: Gordon Hayward, who shot just 4-of-12 from the field. Utah’s sophomore shooting guard had stepped up as one of the Jazz’s best players during their six-game winning streak, but couldn’t get it going on Saturday night.
On going 5-0 during the home stand:
Paul: “It’s great. We needed it. It gave us a little bit of breathing room but we can’t relax at all. We have to keep that going.”
Griffin: “Five in a row is great but playing on the road is a whole other story. We’ve got to bring that intensity and bring that def mindset on the road, especially against a good team like Dallas.”
On 20 games in 31 days:
Griffin: “You could definitely feel it. The road trip, coming back and playing however many back-to-backs it was, then going into three straight – you could definitely feel it. It was taxing but we did a pretty decent job of holding our ground somewhat. To finish off with five wins is pretty fantastic.”
On the first quarter:
Jazz head coach Tyrone Corbin: “It’s tough. You can’t give up 38 points on the road in a quarter. Their confidence was growing when they were up 16 points in the first quarter.”
On the Clippers shooting:
Corbin: “We did the right thing and we wanted to keep the guys on the perimeter. But with the extra rotation, they had a couple of guys wide open who knocked down their shots. They got some easy looks and hit some big shots.”
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