LOS ANGELES (AP) The Clippers expected they’d be better once Chris Paul returned to the lineup. They just probably couldn’t have imagined how much.
Blake Griffin had 26 points, 11 rebounds and six assists Sunday night as Los Angeles stormed out to a 31-point lead in the first quarter with its All-Star point guard back on the court and pummeled the Philadelphia 76ers 123-78.
”It felt great just to play. You never know what it’s going to be like until you actually get out there and compete,” Paul said. ”A lot of things go through your mind out there, especially when you come back because you want to make sure you’re not too tired and not trying too hard. But at the same time, we’ve been playing extremely well and I didn’t want to break up our rhythm.”
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Jamal Crawford scored 21 for the defending Pacific Division champions, who were 12-6 while Paul was sidelined with a right shoulder he separated Jan. 3 at Dallas. The seven-time All-Star point guard showed no signs of rust, getting seven points and eight assists in 23 minutes.
”He set the tone,” Crawford said. ”The energy from when he was introduced, to the level of play that he brings, it makes everybody better.”
DeAndre Jordan had 20 rebounds and 10 points, helping Los Angeles increase its division lead over idle Phoenix to four games.
The 45-point margin of victory was the largest for the Clippers’ franchise. The previous record was 39, set in a 121-82 win over Chicago on Nov. 24 at Staples Center.
”That’s an intense, defensive-oriented athletic type of team. We ran into a buzz saw and we got jumped early,” Sixers coach Brett Brown said. ”What an incredible opportunity for a young point guard like Michael Carter-Williams to see Chris Paul play and to play against him.”
Carter-Williams, who leads all rookies in scoring, rebounding and assists per game, finished with 14 points, five assists and seven boards in 34 1/2 minutes. Tony Wroten scored 21 points off the bench for the 76ers, losers of six straight and 13 of 16. Center Spencer Hawes missed all eight shots in 23 scoreless minutes and had just two rebounds.
Paul’s return provided an instant spark, as the Clippers opened the game with a 13-0 run that included a pair of 3-pointers by Crawford off Philadelphia turnovers. They widened the gap to 30-5 while the 76ers missed 17 of their first 19 shots.
Griffin limped to the dressing room with a bruised left shin after Wroten fell into him on a foul by Jordan with less 3 minutes left in the opening period.
But the four-time All-Star returned to the bench before the team’s highest-scoring quarter of the season ended, and Willie Green put an exclamation point on it with a 3 from the left corner to give Los Angeles a 46-15 cushion.
Griffin and teammate Antawn Jamison shared a laugh on the bench as Wroten went to the foul line, trying to cut into a 54-17 deficit about 3 minutes into the second quarter. By then, it hardly seemed to matter to the sellout crowd that Clippers starting forward J.J. Redick missed his third straight game with a sore right hip. It was a laugher the whole way.
”Our defense really set the tone,” Crawford said. ”When we’re covering for each other like that and playing together, it makes it tough on other teams and kind of breaks their rhythm.”
Griffin showed no hint of any ankle issues after his mishap – particularly during a Showtime-like sequence in the second quarter. Paul went in alone on a fast break with Griffin trailing the play, then bounced the ball off the glass and Griffin sent the crowd into a frenzy with the first of back-to-back windmill dunks 27 seconds apart. That made it 60-21 with 4:46 left in the first half.
”I think our guys have tried that in a one-point game. That’s the problem,” coach Doc Rivers said. ”But that’s who they are, and I don’t want to take the joy away – as long as there’s no turnovers with it.”
Philadelphia never challenged after the Clippers built a 69-30 halftime lead. Crawford’s 15-footer gave them their biggest margin, 89-33, with 6:01 left in the third quarter. It was 100-51 going into the fourth.
Before Sunday, the Clippers had never beaten Philadelphia by more than 29 points since the franchises first played in 1970-71.
NOTES: The Clippers shot 56.2 percent and the Sixers 27.0 – going 3 for 28 from 3-point range. … The Clippers are 10-1 against teams that are currently in last place in their respective divisions. The only blemish was a 98-80 loss at Orlando on Nov. 6.