Chris Paul removed the bulky wrapping from his right knee and walked slowly toward the scorer's table early in the fourth quarter.
The Clippers point guard, whose knee was so bothersome that his availability to play was known only shortly before tipoff, would have preferred to sit out the final 8 minutes 21 seconds Monday night against the team with the worst record in the Western Conference.
Of course, that was not an option. Not on this night. Not under these circumstances.
The Clippers needed Paul because they were without leading scorer Blake Griffin and super sub Jamal Crawford and led the Minnesota Timberwolves by only 10 points late in the game.
So Paul checked in and did what he does, making a couple of assists to help the Clippers pull away for an 89-76 victory at Staples Center that ended their two-game losing streak.
His final pass came on a lob to DeAndre Jordan for a reverse dunk that put the Clippers ahead by 21 points. Paul then limped back to the bench with 3:15 to play, having given his team everything he had and everything it needed.
"It was tough but I got through it," said Paul, who credited the team's training staff with helping him be able to play. "Any time you win it makes everything feel better."
Paul finished with just two points on one-for-six shooting, showing uncharacteristically little lift on his jumper, but his 15 assists easily exceeded his season average of 10.1 per game.
"He's playing on one leg and he had 15 assists," said Clippers shooting guard J.J. Redick, who scored 26 points.
Monday riding a stationary bike to keep his knee from stiffening, and Clippers Coach Doc Rivers said he regretted putting Paul back in midway through the second quarter because of Paul's difficulty moving upon re-entering the game.
Not that Paul wasn't effective.
"He's just smart," Rivers said. "He knew he wasn't going to be explosive tonight, he kind of allowed them to trap him a lot on purpose so he could make passes and pick them apart."
Minnesota Coach Flip Saunders gave Kevin Garnett the night off and Timberwolves point guard Ricky Rubio might have wished he didn't play after making only one of eight shots. Forward Adreian Payne led the Timberwolves (14-48) with 16 points.
Griffin and Crawford (bruised calf) arrived at the arena about an hour before tipoff and were carted from the loading dock to the locker room.
It remained unclear when either player might return, though Rivers reiterated that Griffin appeared to be ahead of Crawford in his recovery.
Crawford noted his calf injury was different from the one he suffered last season because it was caused by contact. "Non-contact is always a little scarier," Crawford said, "but this one is taking a little while. … Each day it just gets a little bit better."
The Clippers' schedule takes a tougher turn in the coming days with games at Oklahoma City on Wednesday and at Dallas on Friday. Rivers said Griffin may accompany the Clippers on the trip and there was a chance he could play.
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