Defense makes Clippers' Chris Paul happy in win over Thunder, 120-108

Clippers' Chris Paul scores 33 points while frustrating Thunders' Russell Westbrook, continuing a trend

The most impressive numbers involving Chris Paul often show up on the other side of the box score.

Portland's Damian Lillard scored in single digits for the only time this season while being defended by the Clippers point guard earlier this month.

Golden State's Stephen Curry was similarly flustered earlier this week, making only one-third of his shots and barely topping half of his season average for points against Paul.

It was Russell Westbrook's turn to look almost unworthy of his All-Star status Wednesday night.

Paul agitated the most-valuable-player candidate throughout the Clippers' 120-108 victory at Chesapeake Energy Arena, helping his team win the battle of attrition with Thunder star Kevin Durant and Clippers counterpart Blake Griffin both sidelined by injuries.

Westbrook finished with 24 points but made only five of 14 shots and continually mishandled the ball on the way to 10 turnovers.

Paul outplayed his nemesis in every way, compiling 33 points, nine assists and four rebounds to go with five turnovers. But it was Paul's defensive effort that pleased him most.

"Shots, you're going to make them some nights and some nights you're not," Paul said, "but I always try to accept the challenge defensively because all those guys are scoring guards and they really carry their team, so that's what I try to do to put an imprint on the game."

Paul got plenty of help from his teammates. J.J. Redick scored 25 points, Matt Barnes added 22 and DeAndre Jordan had 18 points and 17 rebounds to help the Clippers improve to 9-5 without Griffin, who has been sidelined since last month after undergoing surgery to remove a staph infection from his elbow.

Clippers Coach Doc Rivers described Griffin as "very close" to returning, even though the All-Star forward did not accompany the team on its two-game trip that continues Friday against the Dallas Mavericks.

The Thunder expects to be without Durant for at least another week as he continues his recovery from soreness in his right foot.

Paul scored a season-high 20 points in the first half, but the Clippers (42-23) held only a 65-57 lead after letting most of an early 17-point advantage slip away.

Then Paul scored 12 points in the third quarter, including two free throws that gave the Clippers a 100-85 lead going into the final quarter.

The Thunder never threatened in the final 12 minutes, its hack-a-Jordan strategy failing as the center made six of 10 free throws while being intentionally fouled. Jordan's big showing gave credence to Oklahoma City Coach Scott Brooks calling him "probably the best defensive big in the game," even ahead of the Thunder's Serge Ibaka because of Jordan's rebounding prowess.

Ibaka had 15 points but only three rebounds against the Clippers.

Paul gave the Clippers a scare when he stepped on the back of Anthony Morrow's foot and rolled his right ankle late in the fourth quarter and left the game. He didn't emerge from the trainer's room until more than an hour after the game but insisted he was fine.

He had been nothing less than phenomenal earlier in the evening.

"He's just a competitor, man," Barnes said. "Chris is the one guy — Russ is the same way — that they're very competitive and he always wants to guard the best and play the best. Some of these other point guards hide from matchups, but those two guys out there tonight, I take my hat off to them."

Paul has been lost in the MVP buzz that has centered on Westbrook, Curry and Houston's James Harden, but he's fine with that.

"You can have whatever else. I don't care," Paul said. "You can have the assists, steals titles, you can have all that. I just need to win a championship."

ben.bolch@latimes.com

Twitter: @latbbolch

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