The road is full of potholes, and the Clippers almost fell into one Monday night. If they had, it wouldn’t have been too surprising; teams don’t go to EnergySolutions Arena in Salt Lake City with big hopes.
The Utah Jazz were one of only three teams still unbeaten at home this season, and they seemed perfectly situated to beat the Clippers. But for all their missteps over the first three quarters, the Clippers rebounded — and they did it resoundingly.
They rallied from 14 points down in the third period, went on a 20-7 run in the fourth and came back for a 105-104 victory, handing the Jazz their first loss in seven home games.
“To get one here is huge,” said Blake Griffin, who scored a season-high 30 points. “We’re fortunate to get out with a win.”
No doubt about that. After Chris Paul blew past three defenders to score on a driving layup with 39.9 seconds for a 101-99 lead, the Clippers had to hold on. They extended their advantage to 105-101 when Jamal Crawford dropped in two free throws with 5.7 seconds left, but Utah came back quickly on Randy Foye’s three-pointer.
There were 0.7 seconds showing when Chauncey Billups threw an inbounds pass, but the ball went into the arms of Foye, who launched a shot that missed at the buzzer.
“It looked ugly the last few seconds,” Paul said. “We’ve got to be better down the stretch.”
The Clippers beat the Jazz last season in their only road game at Salt Lake City, but before that they had lost 16 in a row. Now they’ve won two consecutive games at EnergySolutions and return to Staples Center on Wednesday for the first of three in a row at home.
They’ll have to fix some things in the meantime, but consider these highs and lows:
One common thread in the Clippers’ victories has been their ability to take control early and manage games well. They didn’t do that against the Jazz, falling behind 29-16 at one point and defending poorly. Utah converted 14 of 19 shots in the quarter (73.7 percent) and looked ready to coast. Coming back as they did was impressive, but it’s not going to help them over the long term.
A drop in turnovers
If there’s a correlation between the return of guard Chauncey Billups and the team’s improved play, it’s turnovers. The Clippers made 10 against Minnesota, five against Sacramento and 10 against the Jazz. By comparison, they totaled 25 in a game last month against the Cleveland Cavaliers. With Billups and Paul in the backcourt, the Clippers figure to be better protecting the ball and eliminating mistakes.
A backcourt reunion
The Jazz starting backcourt was Mo Williams and Randy Foye, who played for the Clippers last season but found themselves squeezed out. Williams, who was part of the four-way trade that brought Lamar Odom to LA, had 20 points and 12 assists; Foye, who left as an unrestricted free agent, had 19 points. They outscored the Paul-Billups tandem by a 39-23 margin, but in the end, it was Paul who took over when the Clippers needed big baskets.
The Clippers’ reserves hit a momentary lull during a four-game losing streak, but they appear rejuvenated. They scored 58 points Saturday against the Kings and outscored the Jazz bench 44-31. Jamal Crawford had 20 and was 4 of 4 from the free-throw line, setting a franchise record for consecutive free throws, currently at 48. Odom had another encouraging game with seven points and six rebounds, including four on the offensive end.