Paul’s 29 points help Clippers beat Nets

LOS ANGELES (AP) — After going 4-4 in their previous eight games, the Los Angeles Clippers

were looking to set a tone for themselves before heading out on their

last big road trip before the playoffs.

Chris Paul made sure it started with him.

The

All-Star guard scored 17 of his 29 points in the fourth quarter after

banging his left knee early in the game and the Clippers held off the

Brooklyn Nets 101-95 on Saturday night in a matchup of playoff-bound

teams.

“A lot of these games we’ve been letting get away from

us,” Paul said. “Tonight we found a way to get stops when we needed and

we got some big buckets when we needed them.

Paul made 12 of 13

free throws and had 11 assists while going against Deron Williams.

Willie Green added 15 points, DeAndre Jordan had 13 points and 12

rebounds, and Blake Griffin scored 11 points for the Clippers, who

improved to 28-8 at home and won their second in a row.

It was their franchise-record 10th consecutive victory against an Eastern Conference team.

“We played the best in the biggest moments,” Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro said.

The

Nets were led by Brook Lopez and Williams with 18 points each. Gerald

Wallace and Joe Johnson added 15 points each and ex-Clipper Reggie Evans

had 16 rebounds while holding down Griffin’s numbers.

“It’s tough because we did so well for 3 quarters, and then the way it ended, I felt it was really our game,” Lopez said.

The

Clippers got a scare in the first quarter when Paul bumped his left

knee with Keith Bogans and briefly left the game. It was similar to what

happened to Paul in January when he ended up with a bruised right

kneecap after colliding with J.J. Redick and missed games.

“No

question,” Paul said when asked if he experienced a flashback. “I know

it wasn’t done on purpose. It’s just one of those things when people are

setting screens on you, they just didn’t give me a step. Hopefully

it’ll be all right.”

Del Negro was uneasy when he saw Paul’s collision, especially with just 12 games remaining in the regular season.

“I wasn’t happy he hit knees, but if I had to pick a knee I was glad it was the left,” he said.

Paul

carried the Clippers in the fourth when they rallied from five points

down to take the lead for the first time since the second period and

avoid a season sweep by the Nets.

The Nets tied it at 90-all on four straight points by Lopez.

“We

needed a couple more free throws or a few less turnovers down the

stretch,” Nets interim coach P.J. Carlesimo said. “We put ourselves in a

position to win the game, and they just did a much better job closing

it out than we did.”

Paul’s jumper put the Clippers back in front

92-90. Jamal Crawford, who finished with 13 points, stole the ball from

Williams and dunked on the fast break for a 94-90 lead with 48 seconds

left.

“That was the biggest play of the game,” Paul said. “I had

no clue what was happening. I was guarding D-Will. I heard the crowd go

nuts.”

Williams called his error “definitely a huge and costly play, and one I wish I could get back.

“They just pick-and-rolled us to death, and we just didn’t do a good job as a team of defending it in the second half,” he said.

Johnson’s

running layup cut the lead to two points before Paul completed a

three-point play for a 97-92 lead with 22 seconds left.

Paul scored 11 of the Clippers’ final 13 points.

“He

takes command of the offense within the last four or five minutes and

he makes sure they get a great shot every time,” Johnson said, “and

that’s what they did. We had a lot of open looks that we normally make,

and we just came up short a few times.”

Eric Bledsoe returned for

the Clippers after missing the last five games with a sore left calf.

He scored seven points in about 10 minutes, and Paul credited him with

being “all over the ball. That’s a point guard’s nightmare.”

Jordan

scored six points in the Clippers’ 18-11 spurt that began with Paul’s

3-pointer and was capped with one from Caron Butler that tied the game

at 65-all late in the third. Jordan scored on back-to-back alley-oops

from Paul and Griffin.

From there, the Nets outscored the Clippers 10-5 to lead 75-70 heading into the final 12 minutes.

The

Nets led most of the second quarter and a free throw by Evans put them

up 48-47 at the break. The Clippers led by eight points in the first

quarter, when they made 5 of 10 3-pointers, before the Nets closed on a

14-7 run to trail 25-24.

NOTES: The Nets were seeking

their first road win against the Clippers since Nov. 15, 2010. … The

Clippers’ old consecutive win streak against the East was nine games

from Feb. 19-Nov. 14, 2001. … The Clippers clinched a playoff berth in

consecutive seasons for the third time in franchise history after Utah

lost in overtime to San Antonio on Friday. … Clippers G Chauncey

Billups missed his second straight game because of a strained right

groin. … The Clippers’ Lamar Odom guarded Kris Humphries for a while

in the first half, with Odom’s wife Khloe Kardashian looking on. The

trio is still officially related through Kim Kardashian’s brief marriage

to Humphries; their divorce trial is set for May 6.