FINAL | April 17, 2013 | Sleep Train Arena | Sacramento, CA

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Eric Patten

SACRAMENTO – Clippers head coach Vinny Del Negro walked to his postgame media conference next to a narrow tunnel leading towards the court at Sleep Train Arena Wednesday and let out an audible exhale.

The Clippers earned home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs, but it took a pair of 3-pointers from Jamal Crawford, two late baskets by Blake Griffin and 24 points from Chris Paul to escape Sacramento with a 112-108 victory.

The last night of the regular season was far from ordinary for the Clippers. Aside from needing a win to secure a playoff-opening game at Staples Center this weekend, they were faced with what could be the final home game in Sacramento Kings history.

But the Clippers overcame a rabid and desperate fan base and a young and energized Kings team to win their seventh game in a row and secure the fourth best record in the Western Conference.

“We knew it was going to be a battle,” Del Negro said. “The energy in the building and we were fortunate enough to score enough points in the fourth. We couldn’t slow them down.”

The Memphis Grizzlies will visit Los Angeles for Game 1 in a rematch of last season’s grueling seven-game series. But home court for the Clippers, who finished the season with a franchise-best 56-26 record, didn’t come without plenty of drama late in the Sacramento night.

Crawford, a leading Sixth Man of the Year candidate, knocked down back-to-back 3-pointers in the final two minutes to flip a one-point deficit to a five-point advantage.

The first for Crawford, who scored 24 points with six assists, came with the shot clock winding down over the outstretched arm of lanky forward Travis Outlaw. A possession later, Paul found his running mate in the right corner for another 3-pointer, making it 103-98 with 1:22 to go.

“Chris told me, ‘I need a big one from you,’” Crawford said. “And I was like, ‘Alright, I got you.’ He did a great job finding me.”

After a DeMarcus Cousins got free for a dunk to make it a three-point game, Paul found Griffin along the baseline for a dunk of his own. Griffin added a key tip in on the following possession to answer another Sacramento basket and Chauncey Billups, playing his second game since returning from a strained right groin Tuesday, made four straight free throws in the final seconds to ice it.

Crawford passed Rasual Butler to set a new single-season franchise record with 149 3-pointers.

“He had his rhythm all night,” Del Negro said of Crawford. “He set the franchise record, most threes in a season, so I’m proud of him for that. He’s been great for us all year.”

Griffin, fighting through back spasms, finished with seven points and four rebounds. Paul had 25 points and 11 assists, while DeAndre Jordan scored six points with 10 boards and two blocks and Billups added 17 points on 5-of-8 shooting (3-of-6 from 3-point range).

“For me, it’s not really about making the shots,” Billups said. “For me, it’s really just about getting out there, running around, going through plays, getting hit a couple times and just playing. The shots are going to come and go, you can’t really control that. To be in tune with what’s going on is more important.”

Kings center DeMarcus Cousins led all scorers with 36 points and a career-high 22 rebounds on a night that was wild from well before tipoff.

It started with Kings staff members passing out black towels emblazoned with “Beat L-A” in silver and as fans piled into the suburban arena for what could be the final time the noise level reached near piercing volume. There were light sticks, fireworks, flames bursting from a Co2 contraption behind each basket, “We love our Kings” and “Our town, our team” signs, and fervent chants of “Sac-ra-men-to” that lasted well after the final buzzer.

“It was a great atmosphere to play ball in,” Griffin said. “And it was kind of a good test for us going into the playoffs.”

Prior to the game, Clippers head coach Vinny Del Negro thought the wild atmosphere could benefit the Clippers.

“I actually think it’s going to help us,” he said. “I think the energy in the building can be contagious. We’re coming on back-to-back game. We know how significant it is, but we didn’t play particularly well up here last time we played.

“Hopefully, the loud and raucous crowd will kick us in the butt early and we can use it as an advantage.”

Del Negro’s inclination appeared right in the first half. After somewhat of a back-and-forth first quarter, the Clippers bench seized the game with a 9-1 run near the beginning of the second.  

With 9:10 remaining in the period Crawford tied the franchise record for 3-pointers with his second of the game, a record he would break in the third. As the half wore on, Paul and Billups took on much of the scoring load. Paul finished with 14 points and five assists before halftime, while Billups, restricted to around 20 minutes in just his third game in almost a month, had 11 points, going 4-for-4 from the field (3-for-3 from long range).

But the Kings proceeded to hang around all night, including snaring a lead on a Patrick Patterson 3-pointer over a hard-closing Griffin with less than three minutes to go. Crawford’s first of his two big fourth-quarter shots from long range came nearly 24 seconds later and the Clippers would get out of California’s capital with an additional boost of momentum heading into Saturday’s opener with the Grizzlies.

“The past seven games we’ve been playing well,” Griffin said. “Our intensity has been up. We just have to carry that over [to the postseason].”

“You want to go into the playoffs with momentum,” Crawford said. “And I think we’re doing that.”


Jordan finished the season shooting 64.3% from the field, leading the NBA and eclipsing James Donaldson for the best single-season field goal percentage in franchise history… The Clippers won a franchise-record 24 road games (tied for the third best record away from home in the league)… Kings guard Isaiah Thomas recorded his second-career double-double, going for 15 points and 10 assists… Sacramento outscored the Clippers, 38-34, in the fourth quarter… L.A. shot 12-for-24 from 3-point range, led by Crawford’s 6-for-8 performance… Matt Barnes, who is from the Sacramento area, had a dozen points and five rebounds…