Two streaking teams going in opposite directions. The Clippers, co-owners of the NBA’s best record and on a roll at home. The Magic, playing opponents close only to fall short while piling up the franchise’s longest skid since the 2003-04 season.
Something had to give, and this time, it was the Clippers.
J.J. Redick gave Orlando its first lead of the game on a 3-pointer with 42 seconds left, Arron Afflalo tied his season high with 30 points, and the Magic won 104-101 on Saturday to snap a 10-game skid.
”It wasn’t a letdown by us. Don’t try to take anything away from them,” Clippers guard Chris Paul said. ”They made tough shot after tough shot. J.J. Reddick had a hand in his face half the time.”
The loss ended the Clippers’ franchise-record, 13-game home-winning streak and provided them with a scare when All-Star Paul went down holding his right knee with 54 seconds to go.
”It was real scary,” Paul said. ”I was looking up, trying to run down the ball, and J.J. Redick and I bumped knees.”
Paul returned after a timeout and hit a 15-footer to draw his team within one with 33 seconds left.
But the Clippers turned the ball over on Jamal Crawford’s offensive foul, with Redick drawing the charge.
”I got the ball in transition and I thought I saw Matt (Barnes) over there,” Crawford said. ”I thought I made the right decision, but J.J. Redick guessed right. I thought he was going to rotate, so I faced it. When I put the ball down he stayed there, so lucky guess.”
Josh McRoberts found Nikola Vucevic open under the basket, and Vucevic dunked to extend Orlando’s lead to 104-101 with 8 seconds left.
After a timeout, Crawford missed a 3-pointer as time expired.
”We got muffled a little, so we tried to make the best out of the situation,” he said.
The Clippers were 6 of 6 from the free throw line, and Orlando was 15 of 19.
”That’s unheard of,” Paul said. ”Blake (Griffin) takes 22 shots and no free throws. That’s not typical for us.”
Redick added 21 points, and Vucevic had 18 points and 15 rebounds for the injury-riddled Magic, who also stopped a four-game road losing streak. They completed a sweep of the LA teams, having beaten the Lakers 113-103 at Staples Center on Dec. 2, when Afflalo also scored 30 points.
”Too bad we can’t play here all year,” said Afflalo, who starred at UCLA before Vucevic played across town at Southern California. ”I was the sour grape at the end letting guys know this only counts as one game.”
Griffin tied his season-high with 30 points, Crawford added 13 points, and Paul had 10 points and 16 assists for the Clippers.
”This was a bad loss,” Griffin said. ”We have to get back to what made us successful and what got us here. That was our defensive intensity and everybody contributing and everybody having a fire out there.”
Crawford’s 3-pointer gave the Clippers a 95-87 lead in the fourth. But the Magic rallied to tie the game at 95-all with eight straight points. The run was capped by Vucevic’s jumper after Afflalo made a 3-pointer while being fouled by Barnes, who picked up his fifth.
”An embarrassing performance for us,” Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro said. ”We got what we deserved.”
The Magic had earlier fourth-quarter leads against Miami, the Knicks, Portland and Denver this season, but were unable to finish. Not this time against a sluggish Clippers team that was coming off two days’ rest, as was the Magic.
”We weren’t just losing and not giving the effort,” Afflalo said. ”We were losing very close games and we kept fighting.”
The Magic had been struggling since big man Glen Davis hurt his left shoulder on Dec. 19. They finally won their first game without him, improving to 6-11 on the road and 13-23 overall since he got injured.
”We were able to put it together, and some things went our way,” Orlando coach Jacque Vaughn said. ”We earned it.”
Orlando opened the third with a 17-9 run, including 12 by Afflalo to make it 66-66.
”Seven of our last 10 games have all been one possession games at one point or another in the last minute and we just haven’t had the ball bounce our way,” Redick said. ”The law of averages worked out.”
Powered by Griffin, the Clippers ended the period on an identical 17-9 spurt to lead 83-75. Griffin scored their final 10 points, highlighted by an alley-oop dunk and back-to-back hook shots, the latter banking in on a turnaround move.
Grant Hill made his season debut for the Clippers, entering the game to a standing ovation in the fourth. The seven-time All-Star had missed 36 games with a bone bruise in his right knee. He made two free throws and had two rebounds in six minutes.
”When Vinny called my number, I was really nervous,” he said. ”But that’s part of it, the butterflies. It’s still kind of new, getting out there and playing with this team. The most important thing is that my knee felt good. My legs were a little heavy. But I passed the test.”
The Clippers led by 13 points twice in the first half. The Magic tied the game three times in the second quarter before the Clippers restored their lead to double digits on a 3-pointer by Paul that capped a 13-0 run.
Notes: Hill played his 998th NBA game. He hadn’t played since Oct. 13 when he had eight points and three rebounds in an exhibition game against Miami in Shanghai. … Vaughn said Davis is progressing back in Orlando and there’s ”nothing negative” in his rehab. … Del Negro watched his alma mater, 20th-ranked North Carolina State, upset No. 1 Duke before his game. … Vaughn spent the team’s off day visiting his parents in nearby Pasadena, where he starred as a prep player. … Shaquille O’Neal sat courtside wearing a Dodgers hoodie, while Dodgers manager Don Mattingly attended, too.