LOS ANGELES – Chris Paul had seen enough.
As he sat on the Los Angeles Clippers' bench Thursday night and watched the Clippers slowly squander a 17-point fourth-quarter lead, he took off his gray warmup shirt and went back into the game.
The Clippers had blown their fair share of leads earlier this season while Paul, wearing a three-piece suit, was injured and helplessly watched from the bench. He wasn’t about to let it happen again now that he was able to enter the game and close it out.
After the Pacers went on a 15-2 run late in the fourth quarter to pull within four points of the Clippers, Paul scored the Clippers’ last eight points to lead L.A. to a 99-91 win, easily one of its biggest road victories of the season.
Paul’s final line -– 29 points, 8 assists and 6 rebounds –- doesn’t quite do his game justice. Every one of Paul’s points, assists and rebounds seemingly came at a critical juncture of the game as the Clippers tried to take control of the contest.
Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro has often pleaded with Paul to be more aggressive early in games, knowing he has the ability to impose his will on teams offensively. More often than not, however, Paul chooses to let the game come to him and get his teammates involved early.
That wasn’t the case on Thursday night as Paul scored eight points on 4-of-6 shooting in the first quarter and dished out four assists as the Clippers jumped out to an early lead. Paul again stepped up in the third quarter after the Clippers gave up a nine-point lead in the second quarter. He scored nine points on 3-of-5 shooting in the third quarter and handed out four more assists. He played every second of the first and third quarters and set the tone early in the first and second half.
Paul was unstoppable in the final three minutes of the game as he drove to the basket and was as aggressive as he has been all season in scoring from 16 feet out, converting a driving layup, hitting a jump shot and drawing a foul and then nailing both free throws.
“We’ve sort of been a team that has been able to get a big lead in the fourth quarter and every now and then we have let teams back into the game,” Paul said. “Those guys went on a 13-0 run or something but we were able to close it out.”
After the game, Pacers coach Frank Vogel called Paul "the best point guard in the universe right now."
At the end of close games, Paul can often be heard yelling “winning time” at his teammates. On Thursday night, he showed them what that was all about.
Here are three takeaways from the game:
Jamal Crawford missed the Clippers’ game on Tuesday night against Charlotte to be with his wife in Seattle for the birth of his daughter, London. On Thursday, he rejoined the team in Indiana, and it didn’t take him long to get back into a groove. He finished with 23 points on 9-of-16 shooting. It was Crawford’s best game since scoring 27 against the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden earlier this month.
"I haven’t played in almost a week," Crawford said. " I was able to work out a couple of times, try and stay sharp and keep my rhythm. My team did a great job of finding me tonight and Coach called a couple of good plays to try and get me going."
As well as the Clippers played on Thursday night, they were downright awful from beyond the arc. The Clippers hit just 4-of-23 3-pointers (17.4 percent) and hit just 1-of-14 in the first half. In fairness to the Clippers, about a dozen of those misses in the first half were wide open and simply didn’t fall. Either way, you’re not going to be in many games when you continuing shooting and missing from the outside like the Clippers were in the first half. Luckily for the Clippers, the Pacers (9-of-25) weren’t a whole lot better.
Griffin pushes through
Blake Griffin has been quietly efficient over the past two games, hitting 18-of-24 from the field. On Thursday night, Griffin scored 18 points and grabbed 14 rebounds. He came up big in the third quarter, scoring 10 points and helping the Clippers take a nine-point lead. Griffin also hit 4-of-5 free throws. This month, Griffin has made almost 70 percent of his free throws.