MINNEAPOLIS — One took over. The other got run over.
In the second of four matchups between two of the NBA’s premier point guard-power forward duos, Clippers leader Chris Paul and his forceful sidekick Blake Griffin got the best of Ricky Rubio and Kevin Love, each commanding one of the final frames in a 102-98 victory over the Timberwolves. Minnesota’s alpha dog, Love, spent more time getting kicked around than hitting shots, and Rubio wasn’t nearly enough of a factor to keep pace with Paul’s late-game heroics.
Los Angeles’ one-four advantage wasn’t the only thing that swung the Clippers’ way in a run-infested, back-and-forth affair that experienced six lead changes, six ties and punch after punch after counterpunch. But a normal night from Love and a little more help from Rubio could’ve made for a much different outcome than a second tight defeat at the hands of Western Conference title-seeking Los Angeles.
“I was a little frustrated,” Love said. “Tonight’s one of the nights you’ve just got to scratch.”
Said Rubio: “A loss is a loss. You’re disappointed. But we fought, fought all the way through, and we couldn’t get that win.”
Facing constant physical duress in the post — including but not limited to a right-arm stinger that threw off his shooting motion — Love went 2-for-14 from the floor and barely managed a double-double with 12 points and 10 rebounds. He did chip in eight assists and fulfilled his roles as a board-crasher and facilitator, but the NBA’s No. 2 point producer was nowhere near his usual self.
Love pointed to what he thought was, at times, over-the-top pressure from DeAndre Jordan and Griffin and a lack of self-composure on his part.
“For the first time — I don’t know if it was from being tired, or my shot wasn’t falling, or they were getting away with a lot — my emotions got the best of me,” Love said. “That happens to people every now and then.”
Griffin and Paul, by contrast, refused to let rocky starts faze either of them.
Each missed five of seven field-goal attempts and had four points at the break. Each finished with 20, as Griffin kept Los Angeles ahead in the third quarter and Paul completed the job in the fourth.
Griffin didn’t miss in the third, going to the rim harder and blowing past Love on a couple occasions. His 14 points had the Clippers up 71-67 entering the fourth.
“He had a nice game,” Timberwolves coach Rick Adelman said of Griffin, who had averaged 25 points and 11.3 rebounds in his past four games. “They got some open courts where they got him the opportunity to attack quickly.”
Griffin’s muscle display was just the beginning.
With Corey Brewer locking up 3-point specialist Jamal Crawford and Kevin Martin coming alive, Paul proved as clutch as he’s ever been in his stellar nine-year career. The fiery, six-time All-Star nailed 6 of 7 attempts in the fourth quarter — five inside the final 3:06 to keep Minnesota (7-6) at bay.
Martin’s 15 final-period points were one less than Paul’s 16-point total, accumulated during the final 5 minutes, 8 seconds. The latter veteran answered the former every time Martin gave the Timberwolves a chance.
After Los Angeles (8-4) opened the fourth quarter on a 10-3 run — much like it commenced every frame, save for the third — Martin hit a 3-pointer from the right corner to cut the deficit to 86-85 with 4 minutes to go. Paul converted a 3-point play 19 seconds later.
Martin’s fadeaway jump shot drew a successful foul-shot attempt and closed the gap again, this time to 94-90 with 2:19 remaining. Paul swished a jumper from the right elbow.
Martin got a running floater to go with 51.1 seconds left and put the Timberwolves back within a possession at 96-93. Paul connected at the right elbow again, and he and J.J. Redick (15 points) made 4 of 6 free throws in the final seconds to seal Minnesota’s second setback in as many nights.
“That’s why he’s a superstar,” Martin said of Paul.
Said Paul: “It is just cool to see the ball go through the net. That is fourth quarter winner time. We are all competitive, but as the leader of the team, me and Blake know it’s time to win.”
Unlike Tuesday’s loss at Washington when Adelman went with J.J. Barea, Rubio played out the crunch-time moments Wednesday. He finished with five points, six assists and four steals.
Not bad. But nowhere near Paul.
“Chris Paul took over in the fourth quarter,” Adelman said. “It’s hard to control him.”
Griffin and Paul’s second-half prowess and the Timberwolves’ 37.8-percent field-goal clip spoiled Martin’s ninth career double-double (28 points, 10 boards) and Nikola Pekovic’s 20-point outburst. The league’s top scoring team, Los Angeles made 12 3s to Minnesota’s five and held a 25-15 fast-break-points edge.
A 22-for-25 foul-stripe effort allowed the Timberwolves to hang around.
The Clippers opened the game with a 12-0 run, followed by a 14-4 Minnesota jaunt that helped forge a 24-all tie entering the second. With each their second units on the floor, each team replicated that series of events — an 11-0 Los Angeles run answered by a 12-0 Timberwolves sequence.
The score was tied at 46 at halftime.
“It was Disneyland,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. “You felt like you were on this rollercoaster.”
But Griffin and Paul, in that order, slowly cracked things open in the second half. After hanging with its West Coast foe for the second time this year, Minnesota has a day to lick its wounds before hosting Brooklyn on Friday.
Then comes a trip to Houston, followed by Indiana, where outings anywhere close to Wednesday’s could get way uglier.
“We kind of have murderer’s row here this next week,” Love said.