In the closing seconds with his team ahead by two points, Chris Paul showed why the Los Angeles Clippers wanted him so badly.
Paul scored on a driving layup, won a crucial jump ball against Jamal Crawford and then came up with a steal to help his new team open the new year with a 93-88 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers on Sunday night that snapped a two-game skid.
”I take a lot of pride in controlling the game,” said Paul, who scored 17 points. ”When you’re down to the last 2, 3 minutes, it’s all about managing the game, time and score.”
Blake Griffin had 20 points and 10 rebounds for his second straight double-double, Caron Butler added 19 points and Mo Williams 13 off the bench to send the Blazers to their first loss of the season.
”We were all over the place, diving for loose balls, scrapping, getting steals and getting out on the break,” Griffin said. ”With two not-so-solid defensive games, it’s good to come out and play like this.”
After allowing San Antonio and Chicago to shoot more than 50 percent in losing their previous two games, the Clippers held the Blazers to 42 percent.
Crawford scored 23 points and LaMarcus Aldridge added 19 for the Blazers, playing on the road for the first time after opening 3-0 at home. Nicolas Batum added 15 points. Portland erased most of a 17-point deficit in the fourth quarter, but the Clippers hung on to end a five-game losing streak against their Western Conference rival.
”CP’s a great player all by himself,” former Clipper Marcus Camby said, ”and then when he got together with all those athletic guys like `Dre (DeAndre Jordan) and Blake, just throwing the ball up to the rim, it provides a lot of energy in the building, keeps those young guys pumped up, and they tend to feed off that.”
The Blazers opened the fourth quarter with six straight points before Williams scored five in a row for the Clippers. Portland used a 16-5 run to close to 81-77 with just more than five minutes left. Crawford and Batum had six points each with both hitting 3-pointers.
Paul tossed up an off-balance 3-pointer to beat the 24-second clock and keep the Clippers ahead 84-77. He and Griffin combined to score nine consecutive points and extend the lead to nine points.
”That’s why he’s the best point guard in the league,” Griffin said about Paul. ”When we really need a bucket he can get to the rim or double-pump and get a 3.”
But the Blazers ran off five in a row, with Crawford making three free throws to get to 90-86 with 1:57 remaining.
Aldridge missed an open 3 in front of the Clippers’ bench and Butler got fouled, but he missed both and then missed a 3-pointer, leaving the Clippers clinging to a four-point lead with 33 seconds to go.
Aldridge hit a turnaround bank shot to leave Portland trailing by two before Paul’s layup made it 92-88 with 9 seconds left.
The Clippers won a crucial jump ball when Paul got the tip from Crawford. Williams was fouled and he made a free throw to seal the win.
”It wasn’t good basketball at all,” Crawford said. ”We’ve had 46 turnovers in the last two games and that’s uncharacteristic of what we’ve been doing. So if we clean that up, I think we’ll be in good shape. Most of our turnovers were self-inflicted. When you don’t get a chance at the rim against a point guard like Chris Paul, he’ll pick you apart.”
The Clippers pulled away to lead by 17 points in the third, when they outscored the Blazers 25-16. Williams capped the period with a steal and 3-pointer as the shot clock wound down that sent Los Angeles into the fourth leading 69-52.
”We did a better job in the first half and it kind of got away from us a little bit in the second half, mostly the fourth quarter with their penetration,” Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro said. ”We gave up too many points in the fourth, but I thought our guys gutted it out really well and made some plays down the stretch.”
The Clippers led 44-36 at the break, having held Portland to 33 percent shooting while dominating the paint in the first half. Jordan punctuated the half with a handful of dunks that excited the crowd.
Chauncey Billups missed his second straight game for the Clippers because of a sore right groin. Del Negro was hopeful the 35-year-old point guard could return for Wednesday’s game against Houston.
NOTES: Both teams had 21 turnovers. … The Blazers failed to score at least 100 points for the first time in four games. … The Clippers improved to 5-4 on New Year’s Day. … The Blazers played the first of 18 games this month, tying the most played by them in any month in team history.