It would have been easy for the Clippers to give in, to be satisfied with the success they had, to say they just didn’t have enough this time with Blake Griffin out.
But the Clippers refused to concede, and instead ground out a 95-89 victory over the New Orleans Pelicans on Thursday night at the Smoothie King Center.
The Clippers have been on the road for a week, their legs tired, their minds exhausted, their play uninspired when they got down by eight points in the first quarter.
They had won four consecutive games, three of them without the injured Griffin, and the idea of winning a fifth straight on New Year’s Eve wasn’t looking good because of a lack of energy.
But the Clippers dug down in the fourth quarter, getting timely defensive stops and timely baskets, allowing them to push their season-high win streak to five.
“We had every excuse to pack it in,” said Chris Paul, who came up big in the fourth despite struggling with his shot all game. He finished with nine points on three-for-18 shooting.
“I think it’s our fifth game in seven nights,” Paul said. “We had just been talking about, this was a game we just could have said it was back-to-back. ... This was a good win for us, especially with this long flight going back [to Los Angeles].”
Early on, J.J. Redick was the Clippers’ only offense. He scored the team’s first 13 points, providing the Clippers with the energy no one else seemed to have.
Redick finished with 26 points on nine-for-15 shooting, four for seven on three-pointers.
“We were dead,” Redick said. “This is our fifth [game] in seven nights, all on the road, five different cities.
“We just talked about it during the first time out. A few of us on the bench, we were just like, ‘Man, let’s just keep it close for a while. We’ll get our energy. We’ll get our rhythm.’ We just didn’t have it at the beginning of the game. So I just wanted to be aggressive and get us going offensively.”
The Clippers found what they were missing in the fourth, building an 11-point lead.
But then they lost their lead, falling behind 87-86 after a Tyreke Evans three-point play.
The Clippers were presented with another challenge that they withstood.
Jamal Crawford (15 points) scored and Paul scored on a 19-foot jumper to allow the Clippers to hold on.
Paul had missed his first seven shots, but he was there for the Clippers when the game hung in the balance.
“I knew sooner or later it’s got to go in,” said Paul, who finished the game off by making three of four free throws. “All the other shots that I shot earlier, it felt like they were going in. But my legs were a little heavy tonight. But the guys on the team kept telling me to stay aggressive and keep shooting it and it went down when we needed it.”