Clippers extend streak to 10 with win over Jazz
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — After spraining his ankle, Chris Paul might have lost some quickness. He compensated with determination.
Paul shook off the injury and the team’s early sluggishness to score 18 points and extend the Los Angeles Clippers’ winning streak to 10 with a 96-87 victory over the Utah Jazz on Friday night.
“I knew I had just had to find a way,” Paul said. “We already said at halftime, it’s not going to be pretty every night, but stay the course and find a way to win.”
Before Paul got hurt, it certainly wasn’t pretty and the Clippers struggled. Blake Griffin had 20 points, even though he never got into a comfortable flow.
“It’s never an easy game coming into a place like this,” he said. “You can’t relax and walk into a building and think you’ll just win because of who you are or what you done, or a streak you’re on.”
Los Angeles had its lowest points total during the streak, but the Clippers won this time with defense, forcing 20 turnovers by the Jazz that led to 31 points.
“That’s what we kept saying in the huddle, ‘Let’s play our defense!’” Paul said. “Early in the game, it was like they were just in a rocking chair. They were swinging it and getting everything they wanted.”
The Jazz led 70-60 in the third quarter, but the Clippers capitalized on a rash of Utah miscues and poor shot selection to go on a 20-2 run.
“We locked in. The intensity and the effort was finally there,” Griffin said.
In the midst of the surge, Paul landed awkwardly after scoring and sprained his left ankle.
“It was the freakiest thing ever. I layed it up and no one was around me but when I landed, my left foot was on the stanchion,” said Paul, who returned after quickly getting the ankle taped between the third and fourth quarters.
The point guard limped up and down the court, but still quarterbacked the Clippers’ come-from-behind-third quarter burst. He had seven points and three assists in the six-minute run that ended with Will Green’s 3-pointer with 10:37 to play that made it 80-72.
Griffin’s inside basket extended the lead to 85-74 before the Jazz made one final surge. Hayward made a 3-pointer that closed the gap to 90-85 with 3:25 remaining, but the Jazz couldn’t score again until 24 seconds remained and the game was decided.
Trey Burke had 18 points — his third straight with at least that many — and Derrick Favors also scored 18, but the Jazz made only seven of 19 fourth-period shots and have dropped eight of nine contests.
The Clippers scored an average of 115 points a game in their previous nine, but were sluggish early against Utah.
The Jazz led by as many as 13 in the first half as they played with more energy than they’ve shown in the past several games. One thrilling sequence exemplified Utah’s determination near the end of the half. Jeremy Evans and Gordon Hayward blocked back-to-back fast-break layups by the Clippers and brought the crowd to its feet.
“Our biggest area of growth will be maintaining that type of intensity throughout the game and playing that way for 48 minutes,” Burke said.
The Clippers missed the shooting and playmaking of Jamal Crawford (calf), but turned to their stars, Paul and Griffin, to bring them back and claim their ninth straight against the Jazz.
“Chris started being more aggressive,” Los Angeles coach Doc Rivers said. “I think sometimes he wants to be the point guard, but tonight we needed his scoring.”
Griffin ranks fourth in the league with more than 28 points per game since Feb. 3 and has now scored at least 20 points in 25 consecutive games, the second-longest current streak in the NBA. But it was defense that turned the tide.
“It was definitely a defensive thing,” Griffin said.
Matt Barnes contributed 15 points and Darren Collison had 14 as the Clippers set a season-high for fast-break points with 31.
“We’re tough to guard in transition. Blake makes some great decisions,” Paul said.
Starting in place of injured Marvin Williams (back), Enes Kanter had 11 points and 15 rebounds, but shot just 5 for 17 for the Jazz.
“In the second half, they were just aggressive and we couldn’t match them,” Kanter said.
NOTES: In honor of the upcoming St. Patrick’s Day holiday, the Jazz wore their road green uniforms. The Clippers played in their regular red away attire. ... Collison’s layup at the first-half buzzer was disallowed after video review. ... The Jazz fell to 0-12 when Williams is out with injury, while the Clippers are 6-0 without Crawford. ... Paul had seven assists to move into 30th place all-time, passing Mookie Blaylock.