Chris Paul’s clutch play in the fourth quarter is a big reason why the Los Angeles Clippers are closing in on a rare playoff berth.
Paul scored 12 of his 28 points in the final period and added 13 assists in a 112-104 victory over the Golden State Warriors on Saturday that brought the Clippers within a game of the Lakers for the Pacific Division lead.
The Clippers have won 11 of 13, inching closer to their first playoff appearance since the 2005-06 season.
”It’s all about locking up a playoff spot. You got to get in,” Paul said. ”Anything can happen when you get to the playoffs. The sky’s the limit. When we play the way we’re capable of playing, we’ve already beaten some of the best teams in the league.”
Blake Griffin added 20 points, DeAndre Jordan 18 and Mo Williams 14 in the Clippers’ third straight win. They also are chasing the idle Lakers for the third seed in the Western Conference with six games remaining.
”We know what our goal is and it’s not to be ahead of the Lakers once the playoffs start,” Jordan said.
The Clippers’ 36 wins are their most since they won 40 games in 2006-07. They next play West-leading Oklahoma City on Monday with a chance to win that season series.
”We would love to win the division,” Paul said. ”In order to do that, we would need to win out.”
Reserve Nate Robinson led injury-riddled Golden State with 28 points, including four 3-pointers. Klay Thompson added 24 points, Dorell Wright scored 23 and Brandon Rush 22 in the Warriors’ third consecutive loss and 11th in their last 13 games.
David Lee and Richard Jefferson have been sidelined since Friday with injuries, joining Andrew Bogut and Stephen Curry.
”We’re undermanned and undersized, but we fought. There’s no quit in us,” Thompson said. ”We’ve been short-handed all year, so it’s a learning experience, especially for us rookies. We’re getting better, but we’ve got to get a lot better defensively. Even though we’re undersized, we’ve got to do a better job of boxing out and keeping them from getting second chances.”
Golden State, the NBA’s leading 3-point shooting team, made 15 from long range – one off its season high. Wright and Thompson had four 3s each. The Warriors were 15 of 21 from the free-throw line, compared to 14 for 30 for the Clippers.
”It was kind of like a snowball effect,” Jordan said. ”I missed a couple and then Blake missed a couple and then Kenyon (Martin) did, and they just started fouling us, but we got the win. We all have confidence in each other that in the clutch we’ll knock those down.”
Without Lee down low to guard Griffin, the Clippers dominated the paint. But Golden State stayed in the game with its strong outside shooting.
”Slow starts like that have killed us. It’s inexcusable,” Thompson said. ”It’s on us rookies to come out and play with a lot of energy. But we showed a lot of heart though.”
Nick Young hit a timely 3-pointer that gave Los Angeles its only double-digit lead of the fourth. From there, the Warriors got within six several times, but the Clippers made a series of defensive stops in the closing minute. Paul hit a 3 with 9 seconds left to preserve the win, although Thompson ended the game by making Golden State’s last 3.
”We understand we couldn’t win a checkers match right now, we are not good enough,” Warriors coach Mark Jackson said.
The Warriors tied it twice in the third quarter but never managed to take the lead despite the Clippers’ missed free throws. They were 10 of 19 from the line in the period. Martin finally made a pair to send the Clippers into the fourth ahead 86-82.
The Clippers raced to a 24-5 lead to start the game, shooting 59 percent in the opening quarter when Paul and Jordan scored 12 points each.
The Warriors hit seven 3-pointers in the second quarter to trail 59-58 at the break. Rush and Robinson made three apiece in the period as Golden State shot 61 percent from long range in the half.
Notes: The Clippers split the season series with the Warriors. … Golden State remains stuck at 10 road wins, equaling last season’s total. … Jefferson, who has a swollen right knee, wasn’t with the Warriors. … The Clippers improved to 9-1 on Saturdays.