Williams, Bledsoe lead Clippers past Hawks

BY foxsports • March 14, 2012

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Blake Griffin, Chris Paul and DeAndre Jordan spent most of the fourth quarter cheerleading from the bench, while reserves Mo Williams, Eric Bledsoe and Reggie Evans and kept the Atlanta Hawks at bay.

Williams scored 25 points and Bledsoe added 14 on a relatively quiet night by Griffin and Paul, leading the Clippers to a 96-82 victory over the Hawks on Wednesday night.

And no one was happier about what transpired than Blake and Paul, the two All-Stars.

"They're just as much a part of the offense as everybody else," Griffin said. "They had the opportunity tonight and everybody stepped up and played extremely well. It's good, not only for our confidence, but also rest-wise -- to be able to conserve some of those minutes down the stretch because of the number of games we have coming up.

"For us to see those guys come in and play like that is great."

Griffin had 12 points and 10 rebounds, while Paul contributed 13 points and nine assists. The victory kept the Clippers within two games of the Lakers in the race for the Pacific Division lead.

"It was a must-win," Williams said. "We put a lot of pressure on ourselves for this game because we needed it really bad. So we came out and did what we had to do against a good team. They're a hard matchup, especially with their big guards."

The Hawks ended their longest road trip of the season 2-4. Joe Johnson led them with 19 points, and Josh Smith added 18. In Tuesday night's 118-117 overtime loss at Denver, Johnson and Smith each recorded season highs with 34 and 33 points, respectively.

"We had a pretty good defensive scheme for them," Paul said. "We wanted to lock them up when they drove and help out on them, because they're two of the great (isolation) players. And we did a good job defending them as a team."

The Clippers never trailed, shooting 70.6 percent in the first quarter after connecting on their first seven field-goal attempts.

"After we lost two in a row and dropped down in the standings, the next game is a must-get. So it was important to put the pressure on right from the get-go," Griffin said. "I was proud of the way we played. We were just focused all day. We had a good shootaround this morning, and that's where it starts -- from the time we walk into the gym to the time the game is over."

Caron Butler's only 3-pointer gave the Clippers a 61-48 lead with 6:32 left in the third quarter. They took a nine-point margin into the fourth before Atlanta closed to 74-69 with a pair of free throws by Smith on a clear-path foul by Kenyon Martin, followed by Smith's 3-pointer with 10:50 to play.

But that was as close as the Hawks got.

Bledsoe converted a fastbreak layup off his steal of Tracy McGrady, Williams hit a 3-pointer, Evans added a layup off an offensive rebound, and Bledsoe hit a 3 from right in front of the Atlanta bench to cap a 12-5 run and give Los Angeles an 86-74 cushion with 5:25 remaining.

"Our defense was big. We got stops when we needed them," Williams said. "Those two steals Bledsoe had in a row were huge. I thought it was the turning point of the game. He's getting playing time now, and you see what he brings. He's a big part of our second unit."

Smith got off to a good start, hitting five of his first six shots, but spent the final 7:18 of the first half on the bench with three fouls while Los Angeles capitalized and took a 50-42 halftime lead with 11 points from Williams.

"They have a lot of pieces," Johnson said. "We pay so much importance to their inside presence and Chris Paul running the pick-and-roll. He basically went out there and was shooting darts. We didn't have anyone to go into the post to put any pressure on their guys. We basically shot a lot of perimeter jump shots and we kind of lost our rhythm a little bit."

NOTES: Atlanta is 68-57 since Larry Drew replaced Mike Woodson as coach at the start of last season. It is the second-best start by any of the 12 coaches the Hawks have had since the 1965-66 campaign, when the franchise was in St. Louis. The only one with a better record through his first 125 games was Lenny Wilkens (76-49). ... This was the third straight game in which the Clippers faced a team with a head coach that used to play for them. They lost 97-93 to Mark Jackson's Golden State Warriors on Sunday night and lost 94-84 to Doc Rivers' Boston Celtics on Monday. ... The Clippers are 9-10 without injured G Chauncey Billups, who was averaging 15.0 points when he suffered a season-ending left Achilles injury -- and is still third on the team in scoring. ... Paul has had at least one steal in 45 consecutive games, the league's longest current streak. ... Griffin became the first Clippers player this season with at least 100 turnovers when he stepped on the baseline with the ball in his hands near the Clippers' basket less than 3 1/2 minutes into the game. Griffin had a team-high 223 last season, when he was the league's rookie of the year.