FINAL | January 19, 2013 | Staples Center, Los Angeles, CA  

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ERIC PATTEN 

LOS ANGELES–In no way did Chris Paul’s return to the Clippers’ lineup after a three-game absence with a bruised right kneecap go exactly the way he would have hoped.

But an assist to Blake Griffin for a twisting layup and a step-back jumper from behind the free throw line helped seal a fourth win in a row for the Clippers, 94-87, over the Washington Wizards Saturday at Staples Center. 

The victory which pulled L.A. (32-9) within a half game of the league’s best record came despite a near season-low shooting performance. They shot 36.6% from the field overall, 0.3% better than their season-worst effort 17 days ago at Golden State.

“We didn’t shoot the ball very well tonight,” Clippers head coach Vinny Del Negro said. “We missed a lot of easy shots we should be making… Chris made some big shots for us. We made some free throws down the stretch to secure the victory.”


Paul, Griffin and Jamal Crawford, the team’s top three scorers were a combined 14-for-47 (29.8%), but Paul’s jumper, Griffin’s layup and a pair of free throws from the All-Star forward helped the Clippers avoid the kind of disappointing loss that has plagued them at times in their own arena this season.

Of their four home losses three have come to teams that were well under .500 at the time of the matchup. The Clippers dropped one a week ago to Orlando, when Paul was injured in the final two minutes, and have losses to Cleveland and New Orleans as well.

The Wizards (8-30), though, were somewhat different. While owning the league’s worst record, they came in winners of four of their last five and entered Saturday playing their best basketball of the season with John Wall back in the lineup.

Wall had a game-high 24 points, but even after leading Washington back from a 12-point fourth-quarter deficit Wall was unable to pull off the upset. He missed two of his final four free throws and after Matt Barnes rejected a 3-pointer by rookie Bradley Beal the Clippers sealed the game with a pair of free throws by Paul.

Moment of Truth: Despite the shooting woes, Paul and Griffin both contributed key moments in the final minutes. Paul nailed a 3-pointer from the corner with 3:14 to go and the shot clock ticking away to put L.A. up by five and after Beal made a 3-pointer two possessions later and Wall split two free throws, Griffin stepped to the line and made both to make it 87-84. Griffin’s layup came a possession later and Paul closed it out with his jumper with 32.4 to go.

“[Paul is] very comfortable in those situations,” Crawford said. “I almost think he thrives in those situations. When those opportunities present themselves, he takes advantage of them.”

Difference Maker: Eric Bledsoe. In a way there was a bit of irony in the idea that Bledsoe had as big an impact on the game Saturday as he did in any of his three games in place of Paul. He flew around the court, crashing the offensive glass, contesting shots at the rim and hounding former Kentucky teammate Wall. He had 11 points to lead the Clippers’ bench, seven rebounds, two rejections and two steals.

Twice Bledsoe flew in for offensive rebounds off missed free throws. Once it resulted in a put-back layup, the other two free throws. “Bledsoe is unreal when he goes in there to the glass,” Paul said.

Del Negro said he was just searching for someone who could make some shots. And Bledsoe made two in the fourth. He knocked down a 3-pointer from straightaway to open the quarter and another mid-range jumper off a side pick-and-roll.

He also brought the ball up the floor on occasion when paired with Paul, something his All-Star teammate said he likes. “It gives me an opportunity to get off the ball,” Paul said. “And it gives me the opportunity to attack from the second side and not let the defense just see me coming. The action might happen on the first side and then it can be swung to me and gives me an opportunity to create other ways.”

Stat Line of the Night:  Paul’s return to the lineup began with him being honored prior to the game for his Western Conference Player of the Month award for December. It ended with him closing the show despite a woeful shooting night and four turnovers. He had 22 points, 11 assists and a steal, extending his streak of consecutive games with at least one steal to 49.

Afterwards he talked about being back on the floor. “I feel like it’s been the longest week being out three games,” Paul said. “But it felt good to be back out on the court. I’ve still got to get my timing back and get it in my head that I can play.”

More Stats: 

Griffin. He went 7-for-10 from the free throw line, which aided his 5-for-18 shooting night. He finished with 17 points, 11 rebounds, three assists and a wondrous block on a fadeaway by Kevin Seraphin where he rejected the shot, grabbed the loose ball, pushed it up the left sideline and found DeAndre Jordan for an alley-oop layup. 

Griffin has made 23 of his last 29 free throws going back to the second quarter of the Clippers' Jan. 5 win over the Warriors. 

Barnes and Odom. The bench duo combined for 14 points, 18 rebounds, two steals and three blocks. Odom, who had 10 rebounds, built on his well-rounded effort in Minnesota, crashing the glass, defending and even dunking an offensive rebound home, spinning off the rim and slapping the backboard before heading back down the court.

Wall. In his fifth game since returning from a stress injury to his left patella, the dynamic young point guard put up a season-high 24 points to lead all scorers. He added six assists, two steals, two blocks and three rebounds and got to the foul line 14 times. He made 10 of his free throws, but two misses late in the game proved costly.

Hot: The Clippers on the offensive glass. They had a season-high 22 offensive rebounds, doubling the Wizards in that category. Barnes and Bledsoe had five each and Odom and Caron Butler grabbed three apiece.

“I’m 6-for-16 and Blake’s 5-for-18, that’s not going to happen on most nights,” Paul said. “The biggest thing I look at is that we got 93 shot attempts and they got 77, so that’s how we won: offensive rebounds.”

Not: The shooting from L.A. The Clippers were 34-of-93 (36.6%) and just 5-for-21 (23.8%) from 3-point range. Griffin, who went 5-for-18, missed several shots he usually makes.

“It was amazing, I was at the rim, 2 feet away and I thought they were down and they just wouldn’t go down for me,” Griffin said.

Quotables:

On how the Clippers won:

Barnes: “We were able to get stops on the defensive end. We weren’t shooting the ball well. John Wall was attacking us and getting to the line and being aggressive. But for the most part, we contained everybody else, and that was important.”

On the end of the game:

Wizards head coach Randy Wittman: “They are a really good team and that is what it boiled down to. Our guys battled, fought and fell behind there a little bit. But they stayed in the game and kept plugging away and we were looking at making a free throw and it would have been a tie game.”

On his free throw shooting of late:

Griffin: “I’m just putting in the work every day. I’m trying to turn that into something that’s a strength of mine and not something that could be a liability at any point, especially down the stretch and in the playoffs and all that that’s going to be huge for us. If I can shoot better from the free throw line I think that will take a lot of pressure off the rest of us.”

Notes: Paul has tallied 43 assists in the last three games combined… Clippers took 31 shots in the first quarter, surpassing their season-high for a quarter (28)… The Wizards’ bench, led by Wall, outscored the Clippers, 46-38… At the 8:56 mark of the second quarter, the Clippers honored Grant Hill for playing in his 1,000th career game with a video tribute… Butler addressed the crowd prior to the game. “On behalf of myself, my teammates and the entire Clipper organization, I want to wish you a happy and a great and safe Martin Luther King Day weekend. Thank you.”


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