LOS ANGELES – After losing four consecutive games the Clippers earned a foul-plagued victory, 101-95, Wednesday night over the Minnesota Timberwolves at Staples Center.

“I’m proud of the guys and the way they bounced back tonight,” Clippers head coach Vinny Del Negro said. “Especially when we had to make plays in the fourth quarter and the defense in the second half.”

There was a buzz in the crowd before the opening tip after it was announced this morning that Chauncey Billups would make his return to the Clippers (9-6) starting lineup against the Timberwolves (6-8), less than 10 months after tearing his left Achilles.

“I was just so excited to be back out there, “Billups said. “It’s been such a long road back. Honestly I’ve only played full court about three times since the injury. Knowing that, I’ve tried to be patient with myself and know that it’s going to take a little while. Just to be out there was great.”

Billups was greeted with a rousing ovation during pregame introductions and connected on his first shot attempt, a 3-pointer from straightaway 1:03 into the game. He went on to score all seven of his points in the first quarter.

The Clippers won despite getting called for 25 personal fouls, resulting in 35 free throws for the Timberwolves. At one point in the third quarter, power forward Kevin Love had attempted more free throws (14) than the Clippers as a team.

Difference Maker: In the fourth quarter, DeAndre Jordan grabbed an offensive rebound that led to a Chris Paul jumper from 15 feet to give the Clippers an 86-85 lead in the fourth quarter and then came up with a massive rejection on a Luke Ridnour runner.

Jordan then grabbed another offensive board off a missed 3-pointer by Billups and fed a driving Blake Griffin for a thunderous two-handed slam that gave the Clippers a five-point lead. He finished the night with 15 points, six rebounds and two blocked shots.

Moment of Truth: The fourth quarter. The Clippers outscored the Timberwolves 25-18 in the final period to pull out the victory. After three quarters, the Clippers had gone to the free throw line 15 times while the Timberwolves made 29 trips to the charity stripe.

That changed in the fourth as the Clippers attacked the basket and got to the line 11 times, making nine of their free throws. The team also clamped down defensively, holding the Timberwolves to 21.7% shooting (5-for-23) in the period.

“I told the guys going into the fourth quarter it’s all a test: a test of your character, a test of what you’re made of, how you’re going to stay together, how you’re going to grind games out,” Del Negro said. “So I was proud of the way we managed the fourth quarter. We made plays when we had to defensively and offensively.”

Stat Line of the Day: Paul led the team with 23 points and dished out 11 assists, recording his sixth double-double of the season and first since Nov. 14. He was particularly aggressive in the fourth quarter, getting to the free throw line eight times. He made all his foul shots en route to 12 points in the period.

More Stats: 

Blake Griffin. He scored 18 points and grabbed six rebounds despite playing just 32 minutes because of foul trouble. He also guarded Love late in the fourth quarter despite having five fouls.

Matt Barnes. Scored 13 points in 26 minutes off the bench to lead the reserves. The Clippers bench bounced as a whole bounced back after a couple of bad games, scoring 36 points against Minnesota.

Kevin Love. The double-double machine added another one against the Clippers, scoring 19 points and grabbing 12 rebounds despite shooting 3-for-12 from the field. He went 12-of-16 from the charity stripe.

Hot: The Clippers Free Throw Shooting. Aside from Jordan’s three misses at the stripe, the rest of the Clippers were perfect at the line 21-for-21 led by Paul’s 8-for-8 night.

Not: The Clippers Rebounding. The Timberwolves crashed the boards all night and outrebounded the Clippers 52-35, including a 21-11 edge on the offensive glass. Love and Nikola Pekovic combined for 22 rebounds, seven on the offensive end.


On Billups’ Return:

Paul: “It was huge to have Chauncey [Billups] out there. I’ve been waiting for this moment for a long time. I just felt much more comfortable. It’s a big difference talking to him with a uniform on then a suit. It hasn’t even been a year and to see him back on the court doing what he does best; it’s remarkable in itself.”

Del Negro: “He is going to be in there at the end of games. He is one of the top guys that you would want in there in terms of not only his big shot ability, but his free throws, knowing the game. He is going to make the right play.”

On tonight’s game:

Josh Howard: “This is a great rivalry. They compete hard. They’re one of the top teams in the NBA. I think we’re one of the top teams in the NBA. We just have to focus and finish games off.”

On the Timberwolves Turnovers:

Rick Adelman: “[Turnovers] have been a problem for us the whole year. When we turn it over, it really hurts us. We hammered them on the boards and we didn’t convert enough second chance points either. We had 21 offensive rebounds. I thought we played really hard. We just have to stay after it, get better every ­­day, and finish games.

Notes: Lamar Odom, Matt Barnes and Ronny Turiaf were each assessed technical fouls… Timberwolves forward Andrei Kirilenko (back spasms) did not play for the Timberwolves…The Clippers scored 100 points for the first time since Nov. 21 when they lost 117-111 at Oklahoma City in overtime… Jamal Crawford scored 11 points and made all six of his free throws. He has converted 44 consecutive free throws, a career high.