COLLISON HELPS SLOW HARDEN, COMES UP BIG IN 4TH

LOS ANGELES – Darren Collison has had a knack for saving the Clippers at times over the last few weeks.

When Chris Paul was out with a separated right shoulder, Collison upped his minutes from around 18 per game to 35 and operated as the sole point guard for the better part of a month. The Clippers won 12 of their 18 games and never lost ground in the standings despite Paul’s absence.

On Wednesday, with Jamal Crawford sidelined in the second half with a strained left calf, Collison filled in again. This time, playing shooting guard alongside Paul, he scored 17 of his 19 points off the bench in the second half, including 12 in the fourth quarter, and helped slow Rockets guard James Harden.

“He was great,” Clippers head coach Doc Rivers said of Collison. “It was great to D.C. step up. I thought that was big for us. I thought his defense was huge, too. We put him on Harden and I thought his pressure, getting up in him helped.”

Collison, who has made his way in 60 games with the Clippers as a water-bug-like guard on the defensive end, helped hold Harden to 18 points on 6-for-16 shooting 24 hours after the two-time All-Star scored 43 points in three quarters at Sacramento. He pestered him throughout the second half, allowing him just five points and two made field goals.

Asked whether he was more pleased with his seven consecutive points in the final two minutes of the fourth quarter or his defensive performance, Collison chose the latter.

“I take a lot of pride in my defense, especially against a guy like James Harden, an All-Star player,” Collison said. “He’s capable of going for 40 like he did last night. You can’t stop him. You just have to make it tough on him.”

Collison also made it tough on Harden on the other end as well. The small-ball backcourt of Paul and Collison forced Harden into guarding one of the Clippers’ two point guards. And it paid off in the fourth quarter, when Collison darted by Harden for a layup and then drilled a 3-pointer as he went under a screen a possession later.

“Jamal went down and collectively guys just had to step up and Darren did a great job,” said Willie Green, who played 7:47 in reserve of Collison in the second half. “He has been big all season for us, tonight was no different.”

In 19 games starting for Paul, Collison shot 47.1 percent, including 43.4 percent from 3-point range, averaged 13.4 points and 6.3 assists and helped the Clippers win 13 games. But with Paul back they form a duo that can be challenging to stop despite being undersized.

“I love playing with D.C.,” Paul said. “He gives me a chance to get off the ball. He is aggressive defensively and gives me a chance to sort of pick my spots.
“It gives us another dimension of a guy who can attack and D.C. can really play and I think we have the ultimate confidence in him.”