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Wednesday, November 20, 2013
Rapid Reaction: Clippers 102, Wolves 98

By Jovan Buha
Special to ESPNLosAngeles.com

Chris Paul took out his mouthpiece, stared down the Minnesota Timberwolves bench and stuck out his tongue.

Indeed, it was quite the MJ impression.

Paul took over in the final quarter of the Los Angeles Clippers' 102-98 victory over the Timberwolves at the Target Center, scoring 16 of the team's final 21 points. His clutch performance inspired a question coach Doc Rivers has been asking all season.

"[Doc] asked me what I was waiting for to be aggressive," Paul told Fox Sports Prime Ticket after the game. "I told him, 'I gotta see the ball go through the net, man.' I haven't made a shot in about five games.

"I'm like anybody else, I struggle with confidence at times. So I made a few shots there, Jamal [Crawford] kept talking to me and luckily I finally made a shot."

With 3:41 remaining, Paul drew a foul on Ricky Rubio, threw up the 9-foot shot and made it. The ensuing free throw gave him 10 points, 10 assists and a new NBA record -- 12 straight games to start the season with at least 10 points and 10 assists, surpassing NBA legend Magic Johnson. Paul finished with 20 points and 11 assists overall.

"It's an unbelievable honor," Paul said. "Magic is a mentor of mine, [he's] somebody I look up to and know personally. Anytime [I can] be mentioned amongst one of the greatest point guards to ever play this game, it's an honor and a privilege."

How it happened: Similar to the last time these two teams met, neither could muster any consistency to pull away. The first half was highlighted by spurts, as the Clippers started both quarters with impressive runs (16-4 in the first, 11-0 in the second), before the Timberwolves responded with runs of their own (20-8 in the first, 22-4 in the second).

The Clippers looked as if they were finally running away with the game in the fourth quarter, but the Timberwolves rallied to get to within two points after DeAndre Jordan committed a flagrant foul on Corey Brewer. But Paul then took control in the last 5:07, and the Clippers eked out a close win.

What it means: This was the Clippers' best defensive performance of the young season. They held the Timberwolves to just 37.8 shooting from the field and 22.7 percent shooting on 3-pointers. As Rivers said last week, he's more concerned with opponents' shooting percentage than the amount of points scored. On Wednesday, the Clippers showed the progress Rivers had been hoping for.

Hits: Paul's MVP-like performance down the stretch.

Blake Griffin had 20 points and 10 rebounds, his ninth 20-point, 10-rebound game of the season. More important, he had perhaps his best defensive performance of the season, holding Kevin Love to 2-of-14 shooting and adding two blocks and two steals.

For what seems like the first time all season, all four bench players contributed and had positive plus-minus differentials.

The Clippers were 12-of-24 (50 percent) from beyond the arc.

Misses: The Clippers had 19 turnovers, including several unforced miscues on fast breaks.

The Clippers were in foul trouble all game, sending the Timberwolves to the free throw line 31 times (they made 25, good for 80.6 percent).

Kevin Martin (28 points), Nikola Pekovic (20 points) and Brewer (17 points) each gave the Clippers fits at times.

Stat of the game: The Clippers had 25 fast-break points, which is 13 more than they had last week against the Timberwolves and eight more than their season average.

Up next: The Clippers can't seem to catch a break in the schedule, as they travel to face the Oklahoma City Thunder on Thursday night. According to ESPN.com's Hollinger Power Rankings, the Clippers have played the most difficult schedule (their average opponent has a near-.600 win percentage), and it only gets tougher in what promises to be their most intense, physical, road game thus far.