It’s sometimes difficult to figure out just how badly the Clippers want this.
They let a wounded, fractured Portland Trail Blazers team minus All-Star LaMarcus Aldridge troll into Staples Center Friday and push them to the brink before pulling out razor-thin 98-97 victory.
They allowed a team with fading playoff hopes and missing All-Star LaMarcus Aldridge drop a 15-0 run on them in the second quarter and a 19-11 run in the fourth quarter to force the Clippers to play catch-up all night.
But amid a game-long struggle they found a way, mapping out a path to a win they had to have.
Chris Paul, probing in the closing seconds to find an advantageous matchup, got singled up with Portland forward J.J. Hickson and dove to the basket to bank in a tough one-handed layup in with five seconds remaining to put the Clippers up 98-87.
On the other end the Clippers collapsed on Portland guard Wesley Matthews, forcing him into a desperate heave and held on for the victory.
Paul finished with 20 points and 14 assists, no points bigger than his last two in which Hickson rotated to him off a pick and roll immediately blew past him for the winning basket.
“I thought they might trap,” Paul said. “But once I saw (Portland guard) Raymond Felton go away I saw an opportunity thre and I just tried to attack and get to the rim.”
Prior to all that, Randy Foye pulled the Clippers out of a 2-point hole with his fifth three-pointer with 47.8 to give the Clippers a 96-95 lead. Jamal Crawford answered with a jumper to put Portland ahead again, but that just set the stage for Paul.
Foye and Blake Griffin each had 20 points, with Griffin adding 13 rebounds as the Clippers won their third in a row.
The art of elevating their game to another level is something the Clippers are engaged in a desperate search for. It’s a must-have skill but an elusive find given the fast-paced schedule, the lack of practice time and a roster that’s changed dramatically throughout the last four months.
For the time being they will settle for a comfortable level of consistency and enough moments of dominance to piece together the necessary victory total to achieve their playoff aspirations.
“It obviously wasn’t our best performance,” Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro said. “But we’ll take it.”