After their 17th consecutive victory gave them a perfect month, the Los Angeles Clippers finally paused to admire their achievement.
"We got something extremely magical going on," said Caron Butler after the Clippers beat the Utah Jazz 107-96 on Sunday night to become the third team in NBA history to record a perfect month.
"When we win we usually jump up and down once or twice," coach Vinny Del Negro said. "Tonight we let them jump and down three or four times, so everyone had their fill."
The Clippers went 16-0 in December to join the 1995-96 San Antonio Spurs, which included Del Negro, and 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers as the only teams to go undefeated in a month. Their franchise-record winning streak is the longest since Boston won 19 in a row four years ago.
"I am amazed because I haven’t done it since I’ve been in the league," said seven-year veteran Chris Paul, whose 19 points and nine assists helped his team maintain the league’s best record at 25-6.
Butler led the Clippers with 29 points despite not playing in the fourth quarter and made all six of his 3-pointers, including five in the opening period. Jamal Crawford scored 11 of his 19 points in the fourth quarter. Blake Griffin piled up five fouls and was held to seven points after getting double-teamed.
"That shows our depth," Paul said. "Our bench stepped up amazing. On any given night it can be another guy."
The streak isn’t talked about among the players and coaches. But it’s a popular topic among everyone else.
"That’s an incredible record to have," Utah’s Derrick Favors said. "They’ve got 17 straight wins and they’re playing hard. I know there’s a lot of pressure on them to try to keep it up, and they’re going to keep coming out and keep playing the same way."
Actually, it’s just the opposite, according to Griffin, who said the last month "is the most fun I’ve ever had playing basketball."
"You don’t really think about it that much. We’re having a blast," he said about the streak. "It’s not like it’s one of these things where it’s so much pressure."
Al Jefferson scored 30 points – one off his season high – to lead Utah, which fell victim for the third time during the Clippers’ streak. The Jazz lost 116-114 on Friday when the Clippers rallied from 19 points down, and they were beaten 105-104 on Dec. 3, both times at home.
"It’s frustrating," said Gordon Hayward, who had 16 points. "Knowing that they’re a good team and knowing that we’re always right there with them, knowing that we need to keep on playing good for 48 minutes."
The Jazz lost their third in a row and seventh in the last nine games.
"We can’t make any mistakes against them, especially on their home floor because they make you pay for it," Jefferson said.
Crawford keyed a 10-5 run to open the fourth, highlighted by a 3-pointer and a fast break pull-up jumper that helped the Clippers extend their lead to 89-81. Paul and Griffin didn’t join the second unit until 5:55 remained and Utah had closed within four on a basket by Favors.
That was as close as the Jazz got. The Clippers made 9 of 10 free throws down the stretch and their defense held Utah to one field goal in the final 3:38.
"It was a grind-it-out game, nothing pretty about it," Crawford said. "We got us a nice thing going and we got to keep it going."
Los Angeles stretched its lead to 71-59 in the third quarter, when Butler scored 10 of their first 17 points.
From there, the Jazz closed on a 17-8 run to pull to 79-76 going into the fourth. Utah briefly took its first lead since early in the game when Jefferson scored over Lamar Odom, but the Jazz committed two costly turnovers in the final 49 seconds.
Paul got fouled and made both free throws, and then Matt Barnes stole the ball from Jamaal Tinsley and fed Paul on the break. He missed but Crawford was there to tip it in and restore the Clippers’ lead.
"We haven’t been playing our best basketball the last few games," Utah coach Tyrone Corbin said. "We’re playing hard, but we’ve got to be a little smarter and not make the kind of mistakes we made down the stretch."
The Clippers shot 62 percent en route to a 54-45 halftime lead, with Butler scoring 17 points in the first quarter. Utah led briefly to start the game when Jefferson scored eight of their first 13 points.
NOTES: Los Angeles improved to 11-3 at home. … The Jazz fell to 6-13 on the road. … Clippers F Ronny Turiaf says his right elbow is "messed up." He said he hurt it a couple games ago when he felt discomfort while boxing out. … Odom’s ankle is bothering him. … The Clippers haven’t lost since Nov. 26 at home against New Orleans.