Chauncey Billups couldn’t lift the Clippers on his shoulders and carry them to the end of their four-game losing streak all alone. Chris Paul couldn’t do it by himself either. Neither could Blake Griffin nor could DeAndre Jordan.
They had to do it together.
Billups gave the Clippers an emotional boost in his first game since suffering a season-ending Achilles’ tendon injury last Feb. 6, and he, Paul, Griffin and Jordan banded together for a 101-95 victory Wednesday night over the Minnesota Timberwolves.
“Like I told the guys going into the fourth quarter, ‘It’s all a test, a test of your character,’” Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro said. “I was proud of the way we managed the fourth quarter and made plays when we had to, offensively and defensively.”
Billups scored seven points, all in the first quarter, in 19 minutes, 24 seconds. He also had three assists, including a 35-foot lob pass to Jordan for a spectacular highlight-reel dunk that gave the Clippers a 97-93 lead with 16.6 seconds left.
“I was just so excited to be back out there after such a long road back,” Billups said. “I probably played full court three times. I have to be patient. I wasn’t going to hear the word, ‘No,’ or, ‘He’s done.’ I wasn’t going to listen to none of y’all.
“As long as we won the game, it’s a success for me.”
Paul put the Clippers ahead for good with a jump shot that gave them an 86-85 lead with 4 minutes, 34 seconds remaining in the game. Griffin hit a jumper moments later and then dunked off a feed from Jordan to make it 90-85 with 3:02 left.
After the Timberwolves’ Nikola Pekovic countered with a three-point play, Jordan converted a three-point play of his own to restore the Clippers’ five-point lead with 59.4 seconds remaining.
Paul scored 23 points and added 11 assists, Griffin scored 18 points only one game after he had a career-low four, and Jordan added 15 points. Matt Barnes scored 13 points and Jamal Crawford had 11 to lead the Clippers’ rejuvenated second unit.
Kevin Love, a former UCLA standout, scored 19 points on 3-for-12 shooting and grabbed 12 rebounds for the Timberwolves. Alexey Shved added 17 points in a reserve role and Luke Ridnour had 13 points and seven assists.
“It was huge to have Chauncey out there,” Paul said. “After player introductions, I went to him and said, ‘I’ve been waiting a long time to have you back out there, so lets go.’ To see him back on the court, doing what he does best, is remarkable.”
Billups said it would be months rather than weeks before he regains his form.
“I’m not what I was the day I got hurt,” he said.
After starting the season with eight victories in their first 10 games, the Clippers went off the rails in a big way. They lost to the Oklahoma City Thunder, the Brooklyn Nets, the Atlanta Hawks and the New Orleans Hornets.
Losing was bad enough, but it was the way they lost that gave Clippers Nation pause. The Clippers were up and down and all around in all facets of the game during their skid. What’s more, their energy came and went too frequently.
“We have to be more consistent,” Del Negro said when asked before Wednesday’s game how his team could avoid a fifth consecutive loss. “We know that. We have to get our energy back.”
Billups did his part, scoring the Clippers’ first basket, a 3-pointer on his first attempt since he was injured in a game against the Orlando Magic almost 10 months ago. He scored seven of the Clippers’ first 11 points.
“I got back pretty far ahead of schedule,” Billups said. “Right now, I feel good. I played 20 minutes, but there’s nothing like a game. I feel like I’m in decent shape, but there’s noting like a real live game. I’m sure I’ll be sore.”