A bad turnover in the final seconds Wednesday night at Philips Arena wasn’t the worst thing that could have happened to the Clippers.
It allowed them to play defense again.
The Clippers’ better half saved them again on the game’s final play, allowing them to emerge with an 85-83 victory over the Atlanta Hawks after Luc Mbah a Moute contested Paul Millsap’s spinning, driving layup that bounced off the rim with less than a second left.
“He likes to go left,” Mbah a Moute said, “so I cut him off and made him go right.”
The Clippers had their way with the Hawks defensively for most of the night, forcing 23 turnovers and holding them to 41.8% shooting. It allowed them to prevail even though they shot 38.8% and made only five of 27 three-pointers (18.5%).
The Clippers’ second victory in two nights helped them salvage a third win in five games from what otherwise felt like a lost trip with the news that All-Star forward Blake Griffin would be sidelined for at least another month because of a broken hand sustained in a fight with a team assistant equipment manager.
“I would have taken this record healthy,” Clippers Coach Doc Rivers said.
Jamal Crawford scored 21 points off the bench for the Clippers, who won even though Chris Paul and J.J. Redick combined to make nine of 25 shots. They also got some unexpected help at the free-throw line from center DeAndre Jordan, who made six of eight attempts in the fourth quarter while being intentionally fouled.
“Shaq Diesel,” Jordan, who had 13 points and 19 rebounds, said in a low voice intended to mimic that of former Lakers star Shaquille O’Neal. “Make them when it counts.”
That’s when Paul Pierce forced a quick inbounds pass, the ball tipping off Paul’s hands out of bounds. The Hawks had the ball with 6.7 seconds left, and the Clippers were back on defense.
“The way it turned out,” Rivers said, “their best offensive player went against our best defensive player and our best defensive player made a stop.”
The Clippers (30-16) also got another strong effort from their second unit, which had received a verbal reprimand from Rivers after a listless showing Sunday against Toronto.
“We had like a meeting and he went down the line,” reserve guard Austin Rivers said.
Hawks forward Thabo Sefolosha, right, passes the ball around Clippers center Cole Aldrich during the first half.(Erik S. Lesser / EPA)
Clippers Coach Doc Rivers reacts to a play against the Hawks during the first half.(Erik S. Lesser / EPA)
Hawks forward Paul Millsap (4) drives against Clippers forward Luc Richard Mbah a Moute (12) during the first half.(Erik S. Lesser / EPA)
Hawks forward Paul Millsap (4) drives against Clippers forward Luc Richard Mbah a Moute (12) in the first half.(John Bazemore / Associated Press)
Hawks center Tiago Splitter (11) and Clippers center DeAndre Jordan (6) battle for a rebound in the first half.(John Bazemore / Associated Press)
Clippers guard Chris Paul (3) celebrates with teammate J.J. Redick (4) in the closing seconds.(Erik S. Lesser / EPA)
Hawks center Al Horford, left, takes a rebound away from Clippers forward Luc Richard Mbah a Moute during the first half.(Erik S. Lesser / EPA)
Doc Rivers’ words resonated. Wesley Johnson, Austin Rivers, Pablo Prigioni and Crawford combined for 10 of the Clippers’ 16 steals and helped hold the Hawks scoreless for long stretches.
“The second unit, they’re in a defensive rhythm right now,” Doc Rivers said.
“I mean, they’re going on eight, nine, 10 possessions in a row where the other team’s not scoring. That’s impressive.”
There was some more good news to consider. Next up are the Lakers (9-38) on Friday at Staples Center in a designated Clippers home game.