Clippers steal crucial win in New Orleans, 96-93

USA TODAY Sports

The Clippers came dangerously close to suffering a damaging loss against the short-handed Hornets, but Chris Paul and Eric Bledsoe teamed up to lead a fourth quarter comeback, setting up a showdown in Memphis tomorrow.

The Los Angeles Clippers have lost a lot of games this season that they deserved to win. This may be the first time that they won when the deserved to lose. In a game that meant everything to the Clippers and nothing to the Hornets, with New Orleans missing two starters and a couple of key reserves, the Clippers had to overcome a 10 point fourth quarter deficit to eke out a 96-93 win.

The Clippers got crushed on the offensive glass, allowing the Hornets 19 offensive rebounds and 25 second chance points. And while the Hornets are a pretty good offensive rebounding team, they were missing one of their best rebounders in Anthony Davis, and mostly this was a simple failure by the Clippers to get a body on people. Even late in the game, when the coaching staff had almost certainly been on people to box out, Blake Griffin was still watching the ball rather than finding his man as shots went up.

You know what team is a GREAT offensive rebounding team? The Memphis Grizzlies are second in the NBA in offensive rebound percentage. If the Clippers don't clean this up right NOW, the Grizzlies will destroy them tomorrow night in a crucial showdown.

With things going badly, Vinny Del Negro turned to a strategy he has used far too infrequently this season in my opinion -- he played Chris Paul and Eric Bledsoe together. Down nine with 8:49 remaining, Del Negro put Paul back in the game but left Bledsoe in, creating a small ball closing unit of Paul, Bledsoe, Jamal Crawford, Matt Barnes and Griffin. With Bledsoe battling against former Clipper Eric Gordon (and sometimes losing the battle, it must be said) and Barnes defending Ryan Anderson, the Clippers small unit was able to get the stops, and importantly, the rebounds, that had eluded the team most of the game.

Bledsoe showed why he is an X factor for the Clippers, despite the fact that he has been something of a forgotten man for the last two months. After scoring a total of three points in the last two games and going scoreless in the first half of this one, he exploded for nine fourth quarter points to spearhead the comeback. His block on Gordon's breakaway with 7:43 was the turning point in the game -- had Gordon converted the Hornets would have gone up 12, but instead the Clippers defense stepped up the rest of the way. With 25 seconds remaining, Bledsoe's follow dunk to give the Clippers a five point seemed like icing on the cake, but when New Orleans made a couple of threes and another long jumper in the final 20 seconds, it turned out that the Clippers needed that basket and all six of Paul's free throws down the stretch.

If Bledsoe was the sparkplug that started the comeback, Paul was the engine that finished it. Mired in a dreadful 2-9 performance with five minutes remaining, Paul made his next two shots, with his foul line jumper giving the Clippers a three point lead in the final minute. On the ensuing Hornets possession he blocked Brian Roberts' layup on what appeared to be a sure basket, and then his penetration broke down the New Orleans defense which allowed for Bledsoe's follow to stretch the lead to five. Paul had 10 points, two assists, two rebounds and block and a steal in the final nine minutes to help the Clippers win the game. He finished with 17 points, 14 assists and seven rebounds -- ourebounding both DeAndre Jordan and Griffin.

Through three quarters it was a disheartening affair for Clips Nation. Griffin was playing well on offense, but was getting destroyed on the glass. Lou Amundson had eight rebounds in 14 minutes while Griffin managed only five in 39 minutes. Matt Barnes, who finished with a 16 point, 10 rebound double double, led the team in rebounds -- Paul was second. Thank goodness that Barnes showed up to play, because through three quarters, no one else really did. Griffin led the team in scoring with 20, and Jamal Crawford also pitched in with 15. Crawford was ice-cold for most of the game, finishing 5-16, but he hit two crucial three-pointers during the fourth quarter comeback.

It's not unusual, particularly for the Clippers, to have a letdown when facing a team you expect to beat easily. With Davis and Greivis Vasquez missing from a team with 27 wins, the Clippers probably thought they were going to have an easy night. The start, in which they got three dunks on their first three possessions, only served to re-enforce the impression that this game was a formality, and the Clippers surely started thinking about Memphis tomorrow. Unfortunately, while they certainly would have benefited from a cakewalk in which their starters were able to rest during the fourth quarter, they made things difficult on themselves and Paul (38 minutes) and Griffin (39) wound up playing more than they would have wanted.

The Grizzlies also won in Houston, setting up the showdown tomorrow night. The consolation is that Memphis also had to work hard in their win, which went down to the final possession, and that they too must travel tonight, the trip to Memphis from Houston being slightly longer than the trip from New Orleans.

In a surprise development, Denver lost in overtime in Dallas, putting the Grizzlies and Nuggets in a tie in the standings, though Denver owns the tiebreaker. The Clippers sit a game back. Denver is not likely to lose again, but they weren't exactly likely to lose in Dallas, so suddenly the three seed is back in play for the Clippers. It almost wasn't -- but the Clippers stole a win Friday, and now head into Memphis for the showdown Saturday.

For the New Orleans perspective, visit At the Hive.



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