It could have gone another way Friday night in Utah, but if the Clippers have proven anything this season, it’s that they can win in a variety of ways.
Down by 19 points in the third quarter, it seemed their winning streak was about to end, but they turned an apparent defeat into their sweet 16th victory in a row, holding off the Utah Jazz 116-114 at EnergySolutions Arena.
For historical perspective, consider that this is only the 23rd winning streak of at least 16 games in NBA history. In 14 of the other 22 instances, the team went on to play in the NBA Finals (that includes the 1970-71 Bucks and 1999-2000 Lakers, who each had two such winning streaks in one season).
The Clippers are also one win away from a perfect 16-0 December, a feat achieved only twice previously in league history. They can complete an undefeated month Sunday night by beating the Jazz again, this time at Staples Center, where they own a 14-3 record.
This win came on the back of Chris Paul, who made the Clippers’ last seven points of the game, and DeAndre Jordan, a notoriously poor free-throw shooter who converted a pair of three-point plays in the fourth quarter, the second of which gave the Clippers a 107-106 lead with 3 mintues, 27 seconds left.
They also got a huge defensively play from Matt Barnes, who got his body on Utah’s Randy Foye on the final play of the game, a 3-point attempt that went awry at the buzzer.
“It’s a good test,” coach Vinny Del Negro said. “It’s always a test for us. At times, we didn’t play our best basketball, but give Utah credit. Our guys battled back and found a way to win.”
They did, after trailing by 19 points, 74-55, with 8:09 left in the third period. Then they rallied furiously, outscoring the Jazz 29-14 the rest of the quarter and finally tying the game 90-90 in the fourth on a Caron Butler three-point basket and free throw.
If there’s one thing the Clippers readily acknowledge, it’s that the target on their backs keeps getting bigger with each win.
“I think that’s what makes it more exciting,” Paul said. “None of the games (have been) close, but this was a close one. We showed a lot of grit, and I think our team did a great job staying together. When we got down by 19, we could’ve argued and fought, but we stayed together.”
Paul had a season-high 29 points (including 22 in the second half), and Blake Griffin had 22. All five starters scored in double figures, with Jordan getting 16 points and 10 rebounds and making 4 of 6 free throws.
“A big game from DJ,” Paul said. “We don’t win this game without his effort.”
The Clippers, whose 24-6 record is the best in the league, have three consecutive road wins at Utah after losing 16 in a row. They’re also 4-2 in the second game of back to backs and have won seven games in a row on the road.
In a season of firsts, the next one awaits: an undefeated December.