Paul returns, but Clippers struggle to win
Saturday night's game didn't need to be a struggle for the Clippers, but they made it one anyway.
They couldn't pull away from the lowly Washington Wizards at Staples Center. Every time they extended a lead, they gave it back. So their 94-87 win in the final game of the season's first half was more of a relief than a rout.
The Clippers shot a season-worst 36.6 percent (34 of 93), despite double-doubles from Chris Paul (22 points, 11 assists) and Blake Griffin (17 points, 11 rebounds). But their shooting was horrendous.
Paul was 6 for 16, Griffin 4 for 18, Jamal Crawford 3 for 13 and Caron Butler 3 for 9. The fact the Clippers were able to overcome their own offensive inefficiency was a testament to their late-game resolve.
"We didn't shoot the basketball very well," Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro said. "We had to rely on our defense. Our rebounding did a good job. We missed a lot of easy shots we should be making."
Paul's return after a three-game absence to rest a bruised right kneecap came just in time. His jump shot over John Wall with 32.4 seconds left in the fourth quarter gave the Clippers a 91-86 lead, and his two free throws with 8.9 seconds remaining iced it.
"It was cool to be back," said Paul, who spent his team's 3-0 road trip on the bench. "I feel like it's been the longest week sitting out three games. It felt good getting back out on the court, but I still need to get my timing back and get it through my head that I can play."
Despite their 8-30 record and 2-17 road mark, the Wizards have played well since Wall returned to the lineup this month after missing 33 games because of a stress injury to his left patella. Washington won four of its previous five games and was clearly determined to make the Clippers work for this win.
It was, in every respect, a grind. The Wizards trailed by seven points at halftime but closed the gap to two points, 52-50, on a layup by Emeka Okafor. The Clippers led by 10 in the third quarter, 60-50, but saw that lead dwindle as well when the Wizards charged back.
"We've got to be able to get stops on the defensive end," forward Matt Barnes said. "We weren't shooting the ball well. John Wall was attacking us and getting to the line and being aggressive. But for the most part, we maintained everybody else, and that was important."
Wall had 24 points and six assists. Clippers guard Eric Bledsoe, who was Wall's teammate at Kentucky, had 11 points in his return to a backup role.
The Clippers hit the halfway point with a franchise-record 32-9 record and a seven-game lead in the Pacific Division. They won't remember Saturday's game fondly, but it didn't erase all the good things they've accomplished so far.
"I'm pretty happy with where we're at as far as wins and losses and all that," Griffin said. "We can still be better, especially in games like this. Everyone was definitely a little tired coming off of this road trip. We just need to get our legs back underneath us and have a good week."