Doc Rivers walked a few steps onto the court in the closing seconds Thursday night, embracing Jamal Crawford. The Clippers coach then exchanged low fives with DeAndre Jordan before his other stars, Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, pumped their fists as they headed for a corridor inside the AT&T Center.
The Clippers’ 102-96 victory over the San Antonio Spurs in Game 6 served as a group hug for a team that needed one in its wildly vacillating first-round playoff series.
The Clippers finished a game with poise two days after faltering in the final seconds on their home court for a second time in the series, Paul showing resolve after a shaky start and Griffin making the shots that eluded him late in Game 5.
A series that has gone back and forth like a pingpong match will conclude with Game 7 at 5 p.m. on Saturday at Staples Center.
Paul finished with a flourish, making seven of his final 14 shots after missing his first seven, his last basket coming on a tough seven-foot jumper that gave the Clippers a 98-93 lead with 21 seconds left. Paul collected 19 points to go with his 15 assists, shrugging off his slow start.
“This means nothing,” Paul said while flicking a box score aside on the podium. “It’s all if you win or you lose, so it was all about continuing to take the shots and doing whatever it takes to win and we did.”
Griffin was equally strong late, scoring 18 of his 26 points in the second half. Shooting guard J.J. Redick had 19 points and Jordan added 15 points and 14 rebounds while making seven of 15 free throws.
Crawford gave the Clippers a 100-96 lead when he made two free throws with 10.1 seconds left. The Spurs’ Patty Mills, who finished the game in place of starter Tony Parker, wasted several seconds dribbling on the perimeter before Marco Belinelli forced a three-pointer that officials initially ruled good on a goaltending call on Griffin.
But officials reviewed the play and determined that San Antonio’s Boris Diaw interfered with the ball before Griffin touched it, nullifying the basket. The Spurs then fouled Griffin on an inbounds play and he made two free throws to sustain his team’s season.
“Before the game I told our guys to focus on execution,” Rivers said. “Don’t use the word ‘elimination.’ The ‘E’ we use is ‘execution’ and I thought our guys did a very good job of staying in the moment and not thinking past tonight.”
Belinelli scored 23 points and made seven of 11 three-pointers for the Spurs, whose fans could have witnessed the final home game of Tim Duncan’s career on his home court should San Antonio go on to lose the series.
The Clippers suffered a potentially big loss when forward Glen Davis, their most trusted reserve big man, strained his left ankle early in the fourth quarter and did not return.
Rivers said he did not know the severity of the injury.
The Clippers wiped out a 10-point deficit in the second quarter despite Paul’s struggles and the team missing its first eight three-pointers, extending to 20 its streak of misses from long range dating to Game 5.
“I kept telling C.P., ‘Keep shooting the ball, it doesn’t matter if it’s going in or not,’” Griffin said, “‘You’re putting pressure on them,’ and he did. He believed and that’s tough to do sometimes.”
Paul scored his first points of the game on two free throws with 2:57 left in the first half, part of the Clippers’ 9-0 run that pulled them into a 47-47 tie. He was just getting started
“When you go into halftime and you look and Blake is three for eight, C.P. is zero for seven and the score is tied, you’re thinking, I think I’m going to live with that,” Rivers said. “You know as competitive as C.P. is, he was going to come out and play for us.”