The Clippers had to grind through Monday’s game against the Denver Nuggets, grind through their own sluggish play for a majority of the night.
And like his teammates, Jamal Crawford had to grind through a tough shooting night — for three quarters. Then in the fourth, Crawford did most of the heavy lifting in leading the Clippers to a 102-98 victory at Staples Center.
Crawford scored 21 of his 23 points in the fourth quarter, including three three-pointers in the period and six free throws in the final minute. His last three free throws in the final 5.1 seconds sealed the game and sent the Clippers off on an eight-game, 13-day trip with a five-game winning streak.
“We lose this game four weeks ago for sure,” Clippers Coach Doc Rivers said. “We just kind of hung in there. Jamal kept saying, ‘We’re going to win this game. I’m guaranteeing it.’ He said it at the end of the third quarter.”
Matt Barnes (18 points) suffered an abdominal strain in the fourth quarter, but Crawford inflicted more pain on the Nuggets — after scoring just two points on one-for-six shooting in the first three quarters.
Crawford was five for eight from the field in the fourth, three for five from three-point range.
“It’s really about the mental toughness and how you bounce back,” Crawford said about overcoming a tough first three quarters. “Like I said, though, with my teammates, the coaching staff and my family, it’s not that hard to do.”
The Clippers went down by 16 points in the first quarter, but came back to lead by halftime, 50-47. Then they went down by 10 early in the fourth quarter after Denver’s Danilo Gallinari made a wide-open three-pointer.
It took Crawford to save the day for the Clippers.
“He was huge,” said Blake Griffin, who was one rebound shy of a triple-double, finishing with 14 points, nine rebounds and 10 assists. “His scoring is unbelievable. In a second, in a flash, you look up and he might have seven points and five minutes later he might have 17. That’s what he does for us and it’s important for him to stay aggressive.”
Crawford’s three-pointer with 3:10 left tied the score at 92-92.
His steal of a Nuggets inbound pass led to his layup and a 94-92 Clippers lead.
Next, he kept Chris Paul’s errant pass from going out if bounds, catching up to the ball under the basket and making a behind-the-back pass to Barnes for a layup that put the Clippers up, 96-94, with 1:23 left.
Crawford was fouled by Wilson Chandler on a three-point attempt and made all three free throws for a 99-94 Clippers lead that still wasn’t safe.
A Chandler basket and two Darrell Arthur free throws cut the Clippers’ to 99-98 with 6.7 seconds left.
Crawford saved his best for last.
He made one of two free throws with 5.1 seconds left, then hustled for the loose rebound the Nuggets failed to get.
Crawford then finished his night and finished off the Nuggets with two free throws for the final margin.
“That’s just a team that’s really believing in themselves,” Rivers said of his Clippers. “We didn’t have it. We missed some shots. We just didn’t have it. We were playing, but you could see it. They just hung around long enough to take the game away.”