Chris Paul dribbled, his eyes darting to the shot clock, and kept dribbling. He was going to hold on to the ball and go for the win.
Paul made a driving layup with 5 seconds to go, lifting the Los Angeles Clippers over the Portland Trail Blazers 98-97 on Friday night as they tied their season high with their fourth straight victory.
”This ain’t my first time,” he said, having successfully closed yet another win in the final seconds for the Clippers. ”I thought they might trap, but as I saw them go away, I tried to attack and get to the rim.”
The franchise that long was the laughingstock of the NBA has won 11 of its 20 games decided by five points or less. Paul has often been the catalyst, whether he scores himself or dishes off.
”He’s so crafty with the ball. He’s not a fast player, but he’s deceptive,” Portland’s J.J. Hickson said. ”It looks like he’s going one way, and he’s really going the other way. He has a crazy in-and-out, and he knows how to finish around the rim with a lot of bigs jumping toward the ball.”
Paul, Blake Griffin and Randy Foye led six Clippers in double-figures with 20 points each. Caron Butler and DeAndre Jordan had 12 each, and Nick Young added 10. Griffin had 13 rebounds and Paul had 14 assists as they moved within a game of the first-place Lakers in the Pacific Division.
”Guys made plays and Foye stepped up,” Griffin said. ”He’s played really well for us all season.”
The Clippers trailed by two when Paul got the ball to Foye, who hit a 3-pointer with 47 seconds left to put the Clippers ahead 96-95.
”J.J. Hickson was right there, so I just shot the ball,” Foye said. ”It seemed like as soon as CP threw the ball to me, it was in slow motion and I just shot the ball and held my follow-through.”
Jamal Crawford made a 22-footer with Foye’s hand in his face and Portland led 97-96 with 13 seconds left.
”I thought it would be enough, but we just couldn’t get that one stop,” Crawford said.
Wesley Matthews missed a running jumper in the waning seconds for Portland, which had drawn up the final play for Crawford.
”Paul took him out of it,” Blazers interim coach Kaleb Canales said. ”Wesley got the ball and took it to the basket and there was a tough no-call.”
Hickson led the Blazers with a season-high 29 points and 13 rebounds, filling in for injured All-Star LaMarcus Aldridge.
”It means nothing when you don’t win,” Hickson said. ”I would have loved to have gotten the win and been in here laughing and talking about it, but it’s tough when you don’t win after playing a great ballgame. It kind of goes down the drain.”
Nicolas Batum added 18 points, Crawford 14, and Matthews 12 as the Blazers fell to 7-19 on the road. Aldridge missed the game because of a sprained left elbow he sustained in a win against New Orleans a night earlier.
Hickson scored six straight points and Raymond Felton added a 3-pointer to give Portland an 89-83 lead, its largest of the fourth quarter.
Griffin made two free throws — the only time in the quarter that a Clipper hit both attempts — and Paul scored to draw them within two.
”He’s been the difference-maker this year,” Griffin said about Paul.
Hickson missed both free throws with 57 seconds left and the Blazers ahead 95-93, but they went on to lose for the third time in four meetings against the Clippers.
”I’ve got to make free throws, and we’ve got to get stops as a team,” Hickson said. ”I take the fall for this one.”
Paul and Foye hit 3-pointers early in the third quarter, when the Clippers led by eight. The Blazers rallied to tie it at 62 on consecutive 3-pointers by Crawford and Luke Babbitt. From there, it was back-and-forth with the Blazers tying it twice more. Kenyon Martin’s putback with three-tenths of a second left gave the Clippers a 73-70 lead going into the fourth.
The Clippers led until early in the second quarter, when the Blazers scored 15 straight points to go ahead 35-25 helped by 3-pointers from Babbitt, Jonny Flynn and Batum.
Los Angeles responded by outscoring Portland 21-8 to end the half ahead 46-43. Foye scored his first 12 points in the run, including three 3-pointers, and Paul capped it with a twisting driving layup at the buzzer that landed him on the floor.
Notes: The Clippers also won four straight from Jan. 26-Feb. 1. … They have scored 100 or more points once in their last 14 games against the Blazers. … Clippers F Reggie Evans was fined $25,000 for making an obscene gesture during Monday’s game against New Orleans. He admitted he made the gesture, but he said it wasn’t directed at the fans. Evans said he was responding to an inside joke between him and teammates Griffin and Jordan, who were teasing him from the bench.