On the final night of their perfect road trip, the Clippers should have had an easier time against the Detroit Pistons. But as they’ve shown so often this season, playing good defense at critical times can often bail them out.
They needed it. The Clippers held the Pistons to 16 points in the fourth quarter, won the game 88-76 and picked up their 10th consecutive victory.
For the most part, the Clippers had to grind out the game, but they converted their shots down the stretch — including two dazzling dunks by Blake Griffin — and made some impressive defensive stops.
“It would have been easy for us to come in here and let our guard down and let those guys beat us,” guard Chris Paul said. “But we stayed focused. It wasn’t easy, but a win is a win.”
The Clippers return home with the first 4-0 road trip in franchise history and need one more win to tie the franchise record of 11 consecutive victories set by the 1974-75 Buffalo Braves. They can do that Wednesday night at Staples Center against the New Orleans Hornets.
The Clippers haven’t lost since Nov. 26, but it was the Hornets who beat them. They no doubt remember that game well.
The Clippers put together a strong offensive run when they needed it, outscoring the Pistons 16-4 at the start of the third quarter for their biggest lead, 58-46. It came after a dull first half in which they were unable to establish a lead they could build on.
“We just could never get our rhythm offensively,” coach Vinny Del Negro told reporters afterward. “We did a good job defensively at times, but it was a game where every time we made a run, we just couldn’t get away from them.”
The Clippers got 15 points each from Griffin and Jamal Crawford and 14 from Paul. Off the bench, Lamar Odom had 11 rebounds and two blocked shots.
One reason the Clippers had problems in the first half was their inability to score. They made just one field goal in the final 7 minutes, 40 seconds of the second quarter and gave up an easy basket at the end of the period when Tayshaun Prince stole a pass from Matt Barnes and Greg Monroe scored on a layup just before the buzzer.
The Pistons have struggled all season and were 2-7 in December, but they stayed in the game and even cut the Clippers lead to six points with under five minutes to play.
The Clippers shot just 39 percent in the first half but finished the game at 45 percent.
Blake Griffin made two incredible dunks in the final 3:10 that put an exclamation point on their trip.
The first came after he blocked a layup by Detroit’s Kyle Sigler and the ball went into the hands of Paul on the break. Griffin suddenly came streaking down the left wing, took a chest-high pass from Paul and pumped once before dunking for an 81-71 lead.
The second came with 26.5 seconds left when Barnes, again on a fast break, threw a pass off the backboard that Griffin slammed one-handed. Even Pistons fans leaped out of their seats to cheer.
What a way to end the game. What a way to return home.