LOS ANGELES (AP) – After going 4-4 in their previous eight games, the Los Angeles Clippers were looking to set a tone for themselves before heading out on their last big road trip before the playoffs.
Chris Paul made sure it started with him.
The All-Star guard scored 17 of his 29 points in the fourth quarter after banging his left knee early in the game and the Clippers held off the Brooklyn Nets 101-95 on Saturday night in a matchup of playoff-bound teams.
“A lot of these games we’ve been letting get away from us,” Paul said. “Tonight we found a way to get stops when we needed and we got some big buckets when we needed them.
Paul made 12 of 13 free throws and had 11 assists while going against Deron Williams. Willie Green added 15 points, DeAndre Jordan had 13 points and 12 rebounds, and Blake Griffin scored 11 points for the Clippers, who improved to 28-8 at home and won their second in a row.
It was their franchise-record 10th consecutive victory against an Eastern Conference team.
“We played the best in the biggest moments,” Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro said.
The Nets were led by Brook Lopez and Williams with 18 points each. Gerald Wallace and Joe Johnson added 15 points each and ex-Clipper Reggie Evans had 16 rebounds while holding down Griffin’s numbers.
“It’s tough because we did so well for 31/2 quarters, and then the way it ended, I felt it was really our game,” Lopez said.
The Clippers got a scare in the first quarter when Paul bumped his left knee with Keith Bogans and briefly left the game. It was similar to what happened to Paul in January when he ended up with a bruised right kneecap after colliding with J.J. Redick and missed games.
“No question,” Paul said when asked if he experienced a flashback. “I know it wasn’t done on purpose. It’s just one of those things when people are setting screens on you, they just didn’t give me a step. Hopefully it’ll be all right.”
Del Negro was uneasy when he saw Paul’s collision, especially with just 12 games remaining in the regular season.
“I wasn’t happy he hit knees, but if I had to pick a knee I was glad it was the left,” he said.
Paul carried the Clippers in the fourth when they rallied from five points down to take the lead for the first time since the second period and avoid a season sweep by the Nets.
The Nets tied it at 90-all on four straight points by Lopez.
“We needed a couple more free throws or a few less turnovers down the stretch,” Nets interim coach P.J. Carlesimo said. “We put ourselves in a position to win the game, and they just did a much better job closing it out than we did.”
Paul’s jumper put the Clippers back in front 92-90. Jamal Crawford, who finished with 13 points, stole the ball from Williams and dunked on the fast break for a 94-90 lead with 48 seconds left.
“That was the biggest play of the game,” Paul said. “I had no clue what was happening. I was guarding D-Will. I heard the crowd go nuts.”
Williams called his error “definitely a huge and costly play, and one I wish I could get back.
“They just pick-and-rolled us to death, and we just didn’t do a good job as a team of defending it in the second half,” he said.
Johnson’s running layup cut the lead to two points before Paul completed a three-point play for a 97-92 lead with 22 seconds left.
Paul scored 11 of the Clippers’ final 13 points.
“He takes command of the offense within the last four or five minutes and he makes sure they get a great shot every time,” Johnson said, “and that’s what they did. We had a lot of open looks that we normally make, and we just came up short a few times.”
Eric Bledsoe returned for the Clippers after missing the last five games with a sore left calf. He scored seven points in about 10 minutes, and Paul credited him with being “all over the ball. That’s a point guard’s nightmare.”
Jordan scored six points in the Clippers’ 18-11 spurt that began with Paul’s 3-pointer and was capped with one from Caron Butler that tied the game at 65-all late in the third. Jordan scored on back-to-back alley-oops from Paul and Griffin.
From there, the Nets outscored the Clippers 10-5 to lead 75-70 heading into the final 12 minutes.
The Nets led most of the second quarter and a free throw by Evans put them up 48-47 at the break. The Clippers led by eight points in the first quarter, when they made 5 of 10 3-pointers, before the Nets closed on a 14-7 run to trail 25-24.
NOTES: The Nets were seeking their first road win against the Clippers since Nov. 15, 2010. — The Clippers’ old consecutive win streak against the East was nine games from Feb. 19-Nov. 14, 2001. — The Clippers clinched a playoff berth in consecutive seasons for the third time in franchise history after Utah lost in overtime to San Antonio on Friday. — Clippers G Chauncey Billups missed his second straight game because of a strained right groin. — The Clippers’ Lamar Odom guarded Kris Humphries for a while in the first half, with Odom’s wife Khloe Kardashian looking on. The trio is still officially related through Kim Kardashian’s brief marriage to Humphries; their divorce trial is set for May 6.
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