FINAL | January 30, 2013 | Target Center, Minneapolis, MN

Clippers

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ERIC PATTEN  

MINNEAPOLIS–The Clippers were teetering on the brink of losing the opener of their marathon eight-game road.

But Caron Butler knocked down a corner 3-pointer, Blake Griffin converted a wild 3-point play and DeAndre Jordan made three big plays down the stretch as the Clippers escaped Target Center Wednesday night with a 96-90 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves.

The Clippers (34-13), playing for the eighth time in their last 10 games without superstar Chris Paul (knee), overcame an 11-point deficit in the first half to take an 11-point lead of their own. That lead dissolved in the latter stages of the third quarter, but unlike their previous road game, a 101-100 loss at Portland, the Clippers executed enough down the stretch to pull away.

“Tonight we still had a couple of lapses here and there,” said Jordan, who blocked a layup attempt by Ricky Rubio and secured a crucial offensive rebound in the final two minutes. “But overall I think we did an okay job with the basketball and we got stops when we needed to, so that really helped us.”

Butler, who scored 19 points with five rebounds, had four of the Clippers’ final eight points, including the 3-pointer from the right corner that gave L.A. a 90-88 lead. Three possessions later, Griffin had the ball in the center of the lane with the 24-second clock about to expire and flipped in a bank shot between three defenders, drawing a foul and converting the ensuing free throw. Griffin’s basket gave the Clippers a six-point advantage with 30 seconds to play.

Afterwards Griffin talked about the importance of starting the trip off with a victory.

“We go into every road trip with the goal to win them all,” Griffin said.  “And you can’t win them all without winning the first one. We didn’t play through the first three [quarters]. We did in spurts, but we pulled it out. But we have to be much, much better from here on out.”

Moment of Truth, Early: Minnesota (17-25) got the benefit of seven technical foul free throws in the first half, including two following a flagrant-2 violation on Matt Barnes for shoving Greg Stiemsma around the throat with his forearm after a Stiemsma screen. Barnes was ejected at the 8:26 mark of the second quarter and about a minute later, Stiemsma shoved Grant Hill in the back on a rebound attempt.

“It’s a good thing when you’re emotionally involved like that,” Butler said. “You know, that’s (Hill) my idol right there. Growing up and playing the game, we discussed this when we went to China, that’s someone that idolized growing up the way he conducted himself on and off the court as a professional and the way he approached the game. Once I saw my big brother go down it was a natural reaction.”

The play earned Stiemsma a flagrant-1 and also garnered technical fouls on Butler and Ronny Turiaf for going after the Timberwolves reserve center. J.J. Barea converted both technical free throws to match the largest lead of the game for Minnesota, but the play seemed to energize the Clippers. They went on an extended 25-10 run to close the half, capped by 3-pointer at the halftime buzzer by Butler.

Moment of Truth, Late: Butler’s shot with2:45 left was big, but the following two defensive possessions may have sealed the game for the Clippers. Rubio missed a wild layup attempt that Jordan corralled and led to a 1-for-2 trip to the line from Jamal Crawford after Rubio fouled him in the frontcourt. Eleven seconds later, Rubio got to the rim again and was rejected by Jordan.

“There’s a moment of truth in the game, the last five or six minutes,” Crawford said. “It could have went either way, I think it was tie game. They fought hard, but we’ve been there before. Tonight, it went in our favor. [Jordan] had some great offensive rebounds, [Bledsoe] flew in there and ran the show, and Caron hit a big time shot and Blake hit a big time shot.”

Difference Maker: Jordan. He checked in with 5:46 left in the fourth, making just his third appearance in the final quarter in the month of January, and the Clippers’ center made the most of it. He rejected Rubio’s layup, grabbed defensive rebound in traffic, drew a loose-ball foul on one offensive rebound attempt and secured another in the final minute. He finished with 16 points, 12 rebounds and two blocked shots in arguably his best game in several weeks. It was Jordan’s sixth double-double.

Stat Line of the Night: Eric Bledsoe. He hit a runner to make it 82-80 after Barea tied it with a 3-point play on the other end and grabbed an offensive rebound off a Crawford miss down the stretch. He finished with 10 points on 3-for-14 shooting, dished out a season-high 10 assists, grabbed three rebounds, and had six steals (one shy of his career best).

More Stats: 

Griffin. After dominating the previous two games as a distributor and finisher, Griffin was a rebounder and finisher on Wednesday. He had game-highs in points (26) and rebounds (13) and also had three of the Clippers’ 11 steals. Griffin also went 4-for-4 from the foul line.

After warming up Griffin went back to the locker room to get his sore left ankle re-taped. “[The ankle] was better against Portland, home and away, and yesterday, something, I don’t know maybe it was the flying, I woke up and it was swollen,” Griffin said. “But hopefully, treatment tonight and tomorrow it will get back to normal.

“As long as you can play with the pain it’s not really that bad. It’s not where it’s constantly on my mind.”

Pekovic. The big man made his return from a bruised quad he sustained two weeks ago against the Clippers and scored six of the first 16 points for Minnesota, finding his way to the rim for layups and little jump hooks all night. He scored 17 points with 12 rebounds to lead Minnesota.

Butler. Barnes’ ejection forced Butler into a season-high 35:13 minutes. He responded with 19 points on 7-of-12 shooting and two key 3-pointers. He also grabbed five rebounds and had one steal.

“I knew it was going to be more minutes out there, but I didn’t know how coach [Vinny Del Negro] was going to approach it,” Butler said. “Fortunately, it was me tonight and I was able to come through in a major way.”

Hot: Jordan. He was 6-of-8 (75.0%) from the floor and scored 16 points. The Clippers are 12-2 when Jordan makes five or more baskets and shoots 50% or better from the field.

Not: The Clippers from 3-point range. They attempted a season-low nine shots from beyond the arc, making three of them. Fortunately, all three were at critical times, including two from Butler and another from Crawford.

Quotables:

On game:

Del Negro: “I just think we were a step slow starting the game off a little bit, missed some easy ones. And they got off to a good lead and then we kind of woke up in the second quarter and started playing our game a little bit more.”

On Butler’s 3-pointer:

Butler: “I had a great opportunity on the left side of the floor where I passed up on a look and went into some traffic. I had a circus shot and I really wanted the opportunity back. Jamal and Blake had a two-man on the left side and created some confusion over there, passed it to Bled (Bledsoe), Bled swung it, and it was a great opportunity for me. It felt real good to get that back.”

On what he did after being ejected:

Barnes: “Watched the game and texted and had to listen to my wife saying I have to calm down and take deep breaths. She was my therapist during the game… That kind of stuff happens. I’ve kind of kept my cool for the most part for a long time and [Stiemsma] just got to me tonight. So, I apologize to my team. Luckily, it sparked a run and lit a fire under our team.”

On game changing after fouls in second quarter:

Barea: “They turned it up and I think that helped them instead of us. I think we were doing good in the quarter and were up 10 and we didn't finish the quarter good and I think that was the game right there. After that we couldn't take the lead again.”  

Notes: The Clippers are 3-0 in the season series against the Timberwolves, including two wins at Target Center… Rick Adelman coached for the first time in 11 games after helping care for his wife, who was undergoing treatment for an unknown medical problem… The Clippers’ bench had just 25 points, one shy of their season-low… Minnesota guard Alexey Shved returned from an ankle injury to score 12 points off the bench, including five points early in the fourth quarter to get the Wolves back in it… Crawford led all bench scorers with 17 points on 5-for-14 shooting. It upped his season average to 16.6 points per game in 45 games as a reserve… The Clippers out-rebounded the Wolves, 45-38 (15-8 offensive)… 

 
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