Griffin, Clippers hold off Nets
With floor general Chris Paul nowhere in sight, the Los Angeles Clippers turned to Chauncey Billups for his veteran leadership. And they got exactly what coach Vinny Del Negro was hoping for when the team obtained the 35-year-old point guard in a waiver auction from the New York Knicks in December.
Billups scored nine of his 20 points in the final 4:23 after the Clippers blew an 18-point lead, Blake Griffin had 23 points and 14 rebounds, and Los Angeles held off the New Jersey Nets 101-91 on Monday while Paul sat out with a strained left hamstring.
''We did a good job of pulling it out,'' Griffin said. ''I mean, we shouldn't have let it get to that point in the first place. We'd much rather have kept that lead and rested a little bit, but we did a good job of grinding and getting it done when we needed to. A win's a win, and we'll take it any way we can get it.''
Trailing by 13 after a three-point play by Reggie Evans with 10 minutes remaining, the Nets tied it at 81 with a 15-2 run capped by Deron Williams' 3-pointer with 6:46 to play. But the Clippers outscored them 20-10 the rest of the way, as Billups drained a clinching 3-pointer with 1:09 left and added a pair of free throws.
Billups made all seven free throws and is 47 for 50 from the line this season. His career free throw percentage of 89.4 is the fourth-highest in NBA history behind Steve Nash, Mark Price and Peja Stojakovic.
''As you know, I love those moments,'' said Billups, a five-time Al-Star who was MVP of the 2004 NBA finals with Detroit. ''They kind of had the momentum swung in their favor, and during the timeout, Vinny drew up a great play — kind of a misdirection pick-and-roll play — and my defender kind of got caught up in a shuffle down there and it gave me time to set my feet.''
It was the third straight victory for the Clippers, who never trailed en route to their sixth win in seven games following a pair of ego-inflating wins against the Miami Heat and the Lakers. All the starters scored in double figures, including Randy Foye, who made his second start of the season in Paul's place and had 13 points and 10 assists.
''Randy Foye came in and just played an unbelievable game,'' Billups said. ''He had a tough defensive assignment, chasing Deron the whole game, and we depended on him to score the ball for us and make plays. And he just came through, man. I'm really happy for him because he's been needing to get that opportunity. He's always ready and he's a true professional.''
Griffin was 9 for 15 from the field and missed eight of 13 free throws. He has had 53 games with at least 20 points and 10 rebounds since the start of last season, the most in the league during that stretch. Orlando's Dwight Howard and Minnesota's Kevin Love each had 51 entering Monday.
MarShon Brooks led New Jersey with 19 points and eight rebounds. Williams was coming off an emotional homecoming against his former team, Utah, in which he shot only 3 for 15 in a 107-94 loss. He finished with 14 points and six assists.
''I don't want to take anything away from them. They came out and played hard, and we weren't able to turn the corner,'' Nets forward Kris Humphries said. ''They have gotten a lot better as a team.''
Humphries had 14 points and seven rebounds. In the previous meeting on March 11, he had 20 rebounds in a 102-98 overtime win after the Nets erased a 20-point deficit.
''We dug ourselves such a big hole today,'' coach Avery Johnson said. ''Then we finally got our offense together and played hard-nosed defense and were able to minimize our errors. I liked the way our guys battled. Those guys are pretty good. They've really turned their roster around, and there's a lot of excitement surrounding that franchise now. Blake Griffin is just a handful in so many ways.''
Paul's injury occurred during the fourth quarter against the Lakers on Saturday. Backup point guard Mo Williams missed his second straight game because of a sore right foot and reserve forward Brian Cook did not dress because of a sprained left ankle. Eric Bledsoe, recovering from offseason surgery on his right knee, is still 2-3 weeks away.
Reserve guard Courtney Fortson made his NBA debut, playing nine scoreless minutes with two assists after signing with the Clippers earlier in the day. The 5-foot-11 guard, who was with the club during their brief training camp, averaged 15.9 points and 5.2 assists in 17 games this season with the Los Angeles D-Fenders of the NBA's D-League.
Paul, in his seventh NBA season, is averaging 18.6 points and 9.9 assists over his career. Only three players in league history finished their careers averaging at least 18 points and eight assists - Hall of Famers Oscar Robertson, Magic Johnson and Isiah Thomas.
NOTES: Paul missed his first game as a Clipper on the 22nd anniversary of Ron Harper's season-ending knee injury against the then-Charlotte Hornets at the LA Sports Arena. ... Foye was born in Newark and played his high school ball there. ... Nets F DeShawn Stevenson was charged with a flagrant 1 foul for pushing Griffin from behind as he went up for an alley-oop pass by Foye with 3:22 left in the second quarter and the Nets trailing 44-35. ... The Nets are exactly 100 games under .500 (39-139) since the beginning of the 2009-10 season, when they got off to an NBA record-worst 0-18 start. ... Nets coach Avery Johnson, who helped the San Antonio Spurs capture an NBA title in 1998-99, is one of seven current coaches in the league who won championship rings as players. The others are Charlotte's Paul Silas (Boston and Seattle), Memphis' Lionel Hollins (Portland), Houston's Kevin McHale (Boston), Cleveland's Byron Scott (Lakers), Dallas' Rick Carlisle (Boston) and Oklahoma City's Scott Brooks (Houston). ... Caron Butler scored 15 of his 20 points in the first quarter for the Clippers.