Game 2 of Chris Paul’s return from an injured left thumb was infinitely more rewarding than his first game back, because of his tough defense against Kemba Walker in overtime and also because of the all-around brilliance of Blake Griffin.
Paul’s smothering defense on Walker in the final tense seconds of OT, with the Clippers clinging to a one-point lead, led to a turnover and eventually helped them escape with a 124-121 victory over the Charlotte Hornets on Sunday night at Staples Center.
“At the end of the day, it was a total team effort,” said Clippers assistant coach Mike Woodson, who spoke to the media after the game because head Coach Doc Rivers wasn’t feeling well.
Griffin scored a season-high 43 points and collected 10 rebounds and five assists as the Clippers snapped a two-game losing streak.
“They’re not a big team, a physical team, so we were able to exploit that,” Woodson said. “We were able to take the ball inside with Blake, and Blake made a lot of great plays at the rim.”
Paul was a rebound shy of a triple-double, finishing with 15 points, 17 assists and nine rebounds. He missed 14 of his 18 shots, but his defense made the outcome turn in the Clippers’ favor.
After the Clippers squandered a 17-point lead in the third quarter, the score was tied at 113-113 when Walker (34 points) made two free throws with 11.9 seconds left in regulation.
Paul missed a potential game-winning jumper, and the teams headed into overtime.
A four-point Clippers lead in the extra period also disappeared, with Charlotte’s Jeremy Lamb making a 16-foot jumper to tie the score at 120-120.
Griffin then made one of two free throws for a 121-120 Clippers lead with 20.7 seconds left. That left the door open for the Hornets to steal the game.
Charlotte had to call a timeout with 19.2 seconds left and another with 10.2 to play because of tough defense by the Clippers.
When Walker got the ball near the midcourt line, Paul got up in his face, forcing the Hornets’ All-Star point guard off balance, and he threw the ball away as he fell backward. . Walker, believing he’d been fouled, protested vehemently as the Clippers rushed the ball into the frontcourt.
DeAndre Jordan (20 points, 19 rebounds) got the ball and passed it to Paul, who missed a layup. But Jordan followed up the miss with a dunk for a 123-120 Clippers lead that stood.
“Kemba has the ball at half court and he thought he got fouled,” Woodson said. “I think he was falling behind the line there and he had to get rid of it and we came up with it. It’s a big defensive effort coming down the stretch.”
In Paul’s first game back after he’d missed 14 games because of left thumb surgery, the Clippers lost to San Antonio on Friday.
But they held on to beat Charlotte.
“When it came down to it, I think we just made some really great plays in overtime,” said J.J.Redick, who had 22 points. “Blake was huge. It was a one-possession game and it came down to one play.”