Paul's heroics nothing new as Clips top Blazers
LOS ANGELES — There is another closer in Los Angeles. He, too, resides at Staples Center.
He's not the guy who wears No. 24 in the Purple & Gold. Instead, he goes by the nickname of CP3.
On Friday night, when the Clippers hosted the Portland Trail Blazers, Chris Paul was up to his old tricks.
With Los Angeles trailing 97-96 and 13 seconds left in the game, Paul was picked up on a switch by the Blazers' J.J. Hickson. He spread the floor, blew past the defender — in true CP3 fashion — and leaned in with a right-handed layup that kissed off the glass as he, giving his team a 98-97 lead with just five seconds remaining.
The Blazers had a chance to win it, but Wes Matthews' layup attempt was short as time expired and the Clippers escaped with their fourth consecutive victory.
Paul was once again the hero, in a position he's been in since he entered the league in 2005.
"I'm used to it," said Paul, who finished with 20 points and 14 assists. "I've done this (before). It started every day since I've been in the NBA so I've been in this situation a number of times."
Before Paul's heroics, the Clippers (30-21) found themselves in a sticky situation against a Portland squad that, for all intents and purposes, was supposed to take a nose dive into the rest of the season.
They had a fire sale at the trade deadline. On the same day, they fired their head coach and named 33-year-old Kaleb Canales as the interim. To add insult to injury, the Blazers (24-28) entered Staples Center on Friday night without their lone All-Star, LaMarcus Aldridge, who was a late scratch because of a hyperextended elbow suffered the night before against the Hornets.
At times Friday, they featured a lineup that included young journeymen Jonny Flynn and Hasheem Thabeet, as well as seldom-used Luke Babbitt. It was hard, however, to tell the Blazers were dealing with any shortcomings. They looked hungrier and played the role of the aggressors, especially Hickson.
Making his first start for the Blazers, in place of the absent Aldridge, Hickson skied through the lane and dunked with one hand over Clippers center DeAndre Jordan to give the Blazers a 39-34 lead with 4:47 left in the first half. Hickson finished with a game-high 29 points and 13 rebounds.
The Blazers led by as many as 10 points in the second quarter and held the Clippers without a field goal for nearly six minutes.
Randy Foye awakened the Clippers, scoring 12 of 14 points at one stretch, including nine straight points. The lone basket he didn't score, he got the assist on a Caron Butler jumper.
"I just wanted to be more aggressive because I got in foul trouble early," said Foye, who finished the game with 20 points. "I was really fresh when I came in. They left me open and I was just able to knock down some shots."
The Clippers ended the half on a 12-4 run and took a 46-43 lead into the locker room.
They led by as many as nine points in the third quarter, but the Blazers marched right back.
By time the fourth quarter rolled around, the Blazers brought the high-flying action at Staples Center, with Flynn throwing up a lob for Thabeet to get the Blazers within one at 79-78.
The Blazers led by six with 4:13 left in the game, setting the stage for Paul.
The Clippers point guard contributed to the team's final 13 points of the game — assisting on three baskets and scoring three of his own.
Paul provides a luxury the Clippers didn't have a year ago — someone able to make plays in late-game situations.
"It's great," Blake Griffin said of Paul. "The ball's in his hands most of the game, for him to be able to score like he can and to be able to create and set up things. It's been huge, and it's just been the difference maker this year."
In wins this season, Paul averages seven points a game in fourth quarters while shooting 55.7 percent from the field. In losses, he averages five points and shoots 39.2 percent from the field.
When asked how many more times he can bail his teammates out of tight jams down the stretch, Paul replied, "As many as it takes."
The next time could be as soon as Saturday, when the Clippers host the Jazz at 7:30 p.m. PT on Prime Ticket.