THE FACTS: Two playoff-bound teams hurtling in opposite directions collided as the Indiana Pacers held on for a 109-106 victory against the Los Angeles Clippers Monday night at Staples Center.
It was the fifth straight victory for Indiana (48-27) and eighth in the last nine games. L.A. (49-26), meanwhile, has lost three in a row and four of its last five.
QUOTABLE: "Winning is contagious. I think we need to get that feeling back. Once you lose. ...you forget quickly what it's like to win."
--Clippers point guard Chris Paul
THE STAT: Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro is reported to be on the hot seat if his team doesn't advance deep into the postseason. Del Negro vehemently expressed his displeasure after Saturday's one-sided loss to the undermanned Rockets. The Clippers don't seem to be reacting to his messages, especially coming out of halftime. In the last four games, the Clippers have been outscored 113-75 in the third quarter. They now sit alone in fifth in the Western Conference standings, the same spot they finished last season.
TURNING POINT: The Clippers did an admirable job rallying from a 24-point, third-quarter deficit to get within striking distance. They pulled within two points with 1:10 remaining in the game, but David West made a tough fall-away jumper against Blake Griffin. The Pacers then made all six free-throw attempts over the next 40 seconds to keep it a two-possession game. The Clippers finally got a chance to tie when Jamal Crawford was fouled before the ball was in-bounded, giving him a free throw and the ball out of bounds to L.A.. Crawford made the free throw to cut the deficit to three, but Paul's 3-point attempt rimmed out. Matt Barnes was there for the putback, but the Clippers still trailed by one. Paul George then made two more free throws with 1.9 seconds remaining. Out of timeouts, the Clippers threw a long inbounds pass to Griffin. He made a touch pass to Lamar Odom at the top of the 3-point line, but his attempt went a couple inches long as the clock expired.
HOT: Indiana center Roy Hibbert was a handful for the Clippers. He made his first eight field-goal attempts and was 11-for-14 from the floor with 26 points and 10 rebounds when he fouled out with 1:35 left and the Clippers about to cut the deficit to four. George also had a solid game back in his native Southern California, recording 23 points, 10 assists and four steals. It was the second time in his three-year career that George reached double digits in the assist department. As a group, the Pacers shot 54.9 percent.
NOT: Paul shot 50.5 percent from the floor in March, the second consecutive month he made at least half his shots. But he struggled mightily against the Pacers, finishing 2-for-12 from the floor with 10 points, eight assists and four turnovers. Even after Del Negro finally put him back on the floor with 4:07 left in the game and the Clippers training by eight, Paul showed an uncharacteristic lack of confidence in his outside shot. At one point with 2:29 left and L.A. trailing by four, he passed up an open look near the free-throw line and instead gave the ball to Odom, who badly missed another 3-point attempt.
GOOD MOVE: The defensive play of the game belonged to West. He snuck up behind Crawford with about 4 ½ minutes left in the game and tipped the ball away to George, who then gave it back to West for an uncontested dunk and a 97-88 lead. That's when Del Negro decided to put Paul back into the game. Clippers forward Caron Butler didn't have much of a game statistically, finishing with 10 points in 18 minutes, but he may have had the toughest tip in of the season. As the final seconds of the first half were ticking down, Griffin left his shot from the baseline short. But Butler soared in and swatted at the ball with his back to the rim, causing it to spin backward and then up and over the rim for two points.
BAD MOVE: Sure, the bench got the Clippers back into the game after the starters let Indiana build a 24-point lead. But keeping Paul on the bench for that long of the fourth quarter was tough to stomach for a lot of L.A. fans. Griffin, the team's leading scorer and rebounder on the season, remained on the bench even longer in the fourth, not returning to the floor until 2:15 remained.
QUOTABLE II: "It's up to them. All I can do is take them in and out of the game."
--Vinny Del Negro
NOTABLE: The Clippers still need one more victory to set a franchise record for a season. ... L.A. had its franchise-record 10-game winning streak against the Eastern Conference ended. ... Clippers center DeAndre Jordan shot 55-for-65 from the field in March, but missed his only two field-goal attempts in 16 minutes against the Pacers. ... Back-up center Ryan Hollins played a season-high 32 minutes, the most of any player on the Clippers. ... Indiana back-up center Ian Mahinmi left the game in the second quarter with a right shoulder contusion but returned in the second half.
UP NEXT: For the Clippers, Wednesday vs. Phoenix, Sunday vs. L.A. Lakers, April 10 vs. Minnesota. For the Pacers, Friday vs. Oklahoma City, Saturday @ Washington, Tuesday vs. Cleveland.