With all the expectations heaped on the Los Angeles Clippers following their offseason makeover, they hadn’t been faced with a major dose of adversity through the first part of the season.
That is about to change.
The Clippers overcame a 15-point first-half deficit and got 29 points and eight assists from Chris Paul to outlast the Orlando Magic 107-102 in overtime Monday night. But they may have lost one of the veteran cogs for the foreseeable future after guard Chauncey Billups left in the fourth quarter with a possible left Achilles injury.
”It’s bittersweet,” Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro said. ”We’ll have to see what happens. Everybody stepped up, but it’s been that kind of season and with Chauncey’s situation, we’ve definitely got to have everybody playing well.
”I’m sick about it. I’m sick for him, I’m sick for us, but mostly for him and how much he means to us. Hopefully, we’ll get some good news tomorrow.”
Billups was having a huge night, scoring 11 of his 18 points in fourth quarter when he turned to run up the court and buckled to the ground with 5:48 left in the game. He was surrounded by trainers and teammates, but needed assistance on both sides to make it off the court.
Griffin also added 18 points and 10 rebounds for the Clippers, who have won six of their last seven and snapped a nine-game losing streak to the Magic.
Paul said he likes how the team stepped up in Billups’ absence, and thinks the Clippers will continue to do so if Billups gets bad news after further evaluation Tuesday.
”We’ve got guys who are battle tested,” Paul said. ”This shows how much grit and fight we have. We realize if we stick together in a tough environment like this, we are capable of winning games like this.”
Dwight Howard had 33 points and 14 rebounds, and Jason Richardson 20 points for the Magic.
Orlando’s loss ended a three-game win streak. It came as point guard Jameer Nelson returned to the lineup and had 15 points and 12 assists after missing five consecutive games with concussion symptoms.
Nelson didn’t show any noticeable effects from his layoff, dishing to Howard for an easy dunk on the Magic’s first possession of the night.
He also didn’t shy from contact, throwing his body in front of Griffin early in the second quarter as he attempted to catch a lob from Paul on a fast break.
”Our guys played hard.” Magic coach Stan Van Gundy said. ”The only thing I fault our guys for was the start of the third quarter. The first six minutes, we came with no energy whatsoever. The rest, it’s on me.”
The Magic were outscored 23-15, before responding with a 32-point fourth quarter to send it to the extra frame.
Back-to-back 3-pointers by Nelson and J.J. Redick put the Magic up 100-96 with 2:49 remaining in overtime.
Caron Butler used a 3 of his own a few possessions later to nudge the Clippers back ahead 101-100 and then Paul floated a jumper over the outstretched hand of Howard to make it 103-100.
Jason Richardson cut it to a basket with a dunk on the other end, but the Magic couldn’t grab a missed jumper by Paul.
Mo Williams made a pair of free throws with 12.6 seconds left, but left the Magic a chance to tie. Richardson’s 3-pointer from the wing rattled out and Paul was able to close the game out at the line.
”It’s part of basketball. I’m not going to be down on myself – it’s a part of basketball,” Richardson said of his final shot attempt. ”Like I said, sometimes it goes in, sometimes it don’t. I’ll take the blame. … I like the pressure. But I tell you what, I don’t miss too many of those.”
The Clippers led by as many as nine in the fourth quarter before Billups went down.
Nelson would score six straight Magic points, followed by Ryan Anderson’s 3-pointer to tie it at 89 with 2:45 left.
A driving layup by Paul put the Clippers back in front 93-91 before Richardson completed a three-point play to put the Magic back up a point.
A turnover by the Clippers gave the Magic the ball back, but Richardson was then stripped near midcourt by Butler. The ball went ahead to Paul on the fast break and eventually ended up in the hands of Griffin, who was fouled and hit 1 of 2 at the line.
The Magic milked the clock for a final shot, but Nelson missed a fade away jumper. The Clippers rebounded and wound up with five-tenths of a second, but after a timeout, Williams’ 18-foot jumper at the horn missed off the front of the rim.
Griffin said avoiding early game mishaps will be of even great importance if Billups is out for the foreseeable future.
”We haven’t had that kind of response on the road much,” he said. ”We get down early and then fight our way back multiple times so that’s a good sign, but we need to not get down in the first place.”
Notes: Van Gundy said he and big man Glen Davis talked Monday morning and are on the same page following his two-game suspension for a verbal run-in with Van Gundy. ”He’s (had) some frustration with his role and being with a new team,” Van Gundy said. ”But I’ve never thought for a second that he was a bad guy.”… Though he wasn’t available Monday night, Clippers free agent signee F Kenyon Martin did shoot at the team’s morning walkthrough. Del Negro said that one of the benefits of signing the 6-foot-9 Martin is he’ll bring even more flexibility to an already deep roster. He said that could even mean Griffin getting minutes at small forward.