On a night when Blake Griffin looked noticeably winded, his teammates came through, providing the necessary fuel.
Midway through the fourth, Griffin stayed in the backcourt while his teammates ran a fastbreak, a rare site to observers of this team. A possession later, he turned it over.
In the end, Griffin finished with 14 points in 38 minutes, going 5-for-14 from the field. He didn’t take a single shot in the fourth quarter and only had two attempts in overtime. It was his third straight sub-par performance.
“He’s fine. He’s fine,” said head coach Vinny Del Negro, in response to the question of whether Blake had, like DeAndre Jordan, fallen ill.
“Yeah, it’s nice to win. This is a great team,” said Griffin, after the game. “This is a win we needed, especially coming off of a loss. You don’t want to lose two in a row, so it was relieving.”
When asked about his energy level at the end, said Griffin, “tired, very tired. But that’s crunch time and when all our guys stepped up and everybody else just kind of falls in line.”
Step up they did. Randy Foye scored 15 points on 6-of-7 shooting and Mo Williams added in 14 off the bench in 36 minutes. But it was Chris Paul who really led the charge with Blake not himself. The star guard took the game over down the stretch, putting the team’s fate in his own hands.
He stepped back on Kyle Lowry with 25 seconds remaining in the fourth, hitting a jumper and putting his team up 97-96. Yet on the final possession of regulation, the Rockets changed their strategy, assigning the 6-7 Courtney Lee to guard Paul. Lee hounded Paul into the corner, not biting on the same move that had shook Lowry seconds before, forcing him into a fallaway attempt after the buzzer. The shot went in, testament to Paul’s abilities, but it did not count.
In overtime, Paul was later again stopped by Lee, trying the same move, with the ball going off of Lee’s leg. He then changed strategies.
With 1:22 left in overtime, Paul dribbled between his legs and dribbled straight past the hounding Lee, finding Blake Griffin underneath the hoop for the slam, the latter’s only basket in both the fourth quarter and overtime. A possession later, Paul hit a jumper over Lee, giving the Clippers the lead for good, 104-103, with just 50 seconds remaining. A Paul free throw at the end, with five seconds left, iced it.
“I pulled back like twice on Courtney and it hit his foot and went out. I was taking a bad angle, so I figured, stop pulling back and go by him and score,” said Paul after the game, with regards to his final sequences against Lee.
To Griffin’s credit, he battled valiantly against Houston Rockets power forward Luis Scola, with things getting extremely physical at certain points.
“He’s a good player and teams play physical. I just try to match that, but at the same time, not overdo it because then, that’s when you get offensive foul calls and stuff like that,” said Griffin on his battle with Scola.
At two separate points in the last three minutes of the fourth, Griffin backed down Scola in the paint, only to have both players fall down.
In the end though, with help from his teammates, it was Griffin winning the war, as he provided the demoralizing dunk late in overtime off the feed from Paul. It seemed to take every last ounce of energy he had, but on this night, it was enough to get the victory.