Paul’s game-winner leads Clippers over 76ers

A little defense, a little rebounding and Chris Paul.

That’s a combination the Clippers are going to need the rest of this season, especially given the loss of Chauncey Billups.

It served them well Friday night in Philadelphia. And the look on Paul’s face at the end of the game said everything you need to know about the team’s spirit right now.

After the Clippers point guard drained a fallback jumper from the free throw line to give his team a 78-77 lead with 3.2 seconds left against the 76ers, he strutted back toward the bench with a confident, almost smug look.

But isn’t that what it’s going to take, a belief they can’t be beaten, no matter how difficult things look?

“Great win,” Paul told Fox Sports West after the game. “We needed that. It’s our first win without Big Shot (Billups). We needed that for our confidence. We miss him so much, but tonight everybody stepped up.”

The 78-77 victory was the Clippers’ seventh win in nine games and gave them a 3-1 record on a road trip that includes two more stops – Saturday at Charlotte and Monday at Dallas. It was also their first win since losing Billups for the season with a torn left Achilles tendon.

The game was a resounding recovery from Wednesday’s 99-92 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers, one the Clippers know they could have won.

“Very important,” Blake Griffin said of the win over the Sixers. “You always want to bounce back, especially on the road. We want to finish up this road trip well and get some momentum going into the last two games on this trip. That was big for us.”

It would not have happened without superb defense and strong rebounding off the bench from forward Reggie Evans, who had 10 rebounds in 19 minutes, including five off the offensive glass.

Paul called Evans “the player of the game,” and in some ways, he was. But so was new addition Kenyon Martin, who had seven rebounds in 23 minutes and put in a big basket to give LA a 72-69 lead with five minutes left.

The Clippers shot just 39 percent for the game and missed 17 of 19 three-pointers, but they also held Philadelphia to 40-percent shooting. The 76ers went the last four minutes of the game without a field goal.

The Clippers broke a 74-74 tie when Caron Butler picked up a loose ball after Griffin fell to the floor and hit a jump shot. Then, on another broken play, Paul made the decisive bucket.

After Lou Williams sank two free throws with 18 seconds left to give the Sixers a 77-76 lead, the Clippers had one last chance to retake the lead. But Paul got stuck in traffic and tried an ill-advised bounce pass to Griffin.

Griffin grabbed the ball but fell to the floor and tossed it back toward midcourt, where Martin caught it and dished quickly to Paul. He drove inside, then stepped back and knocked down the game winner.

“Luckily, Blake came up with it and threw it out top,” Paul said. “I tried to get separation and hit a lucky shot.”

The 76ers still had 3.2 seconds to win the game, but Williams was trapped by Paul and Martin after receiving the inbounds pass and never got a clean look.

Paul had a team-high 24 points, and Griffin added 16 and 11 rebounds. But the Clips had an important 46-40 edge in rebounds and had a season-high 15 offensive boards.

Those are things that win games. And with Billups gone, the Clippers know they’ll need big contributors off the bench.

They got them Friday from Evans and Martin. Who will step up next?