Chris Paul comes through for Clippers against Golden State

The Clippers habitually deliver early knockdown blows and then back off, acting as if their opponent won’t get up, that the final bell has rung and that the game is over.

But when their foes rise and offer a fight, the Clippers look only dazed and confused.

Thankfully for them, point guard Chris Paul habitually swoops in for the rescue, delivering a knockout punch late.

“It’s been the story of our season,” Paul said Saturday, after that story unfolded again in the Clippers’ 112-104 win against the Golden State Warriors at Staples Center.

Paul scored 12 of his 28 points in the fourth quarter and added 13 assists to steer the Clippers to their third consecutive win and 11th in their last 13 games.

“Yeah, he does bail us out a lot,” said forward Blake Griffin, who added 20 points and nine rebounds. “But that’s not to say there’s not other guys who can’t step up and hit shots.”

There are others, but with the ball in Paul’s hands late, there are few others better equipped or more experienced at scoring with the game in the balance.

Paul scored seven straight to open the quarter and put the Clippers ahead by six.

That’s as close as Golden State would get.

“He just kind of took over and stretched the lead,” Griffin said of Paul. “We were fortunate. We’ve got to do a better job, I feel like I’ve said a lot, of when we get a lead, keeping that lead and sustaining it for the whole game.”

Of course, that the Warriors were ever close is a stain on the Clippers’ win, considering Golden State trailed, 24-5, in the first quarter and that Andrew Bogut, Stephen Curry, David Lee and Richard Jefferson were all out with injuries.

“I knew it wasn’t going to be an easy game,” Clippers Coach Vinny Del Negro said, “the way they shoot the three.”

Golden State leads the league in three-point shooting and made eight of its 15 distance shots in the second quarter to climb out of a deep hole.

“Our defense let up,” Paul said. “I think we assumed that our offense was what got us that lead, but it was our defense.”

The Clippers practically gave the Warriors (22-37), who were led by Nate Robinson’s 28 points, a helping hand.

“We missed a ton of free throws,” Del Negro said. (They missed 16 of 30.)

“Those are like turnovers,” he added. (They had 10 of those.)

The Clippers have six regular-season games remaining before the playoffs begin.

They can clinch a berth in the playoffs with a win Monday against Oklahoma City and a loss by Phoenix, which played San Antonio on Saturday night and will face Portland on Monday.

Once in the playoffs, which would be their first appearance there since the 2005-06 season, Paul said “the sky’s the limit” for his team. “When we play the way we’re capable of, we’ve beaten some of the best in our league,” he added.

But while the Clippers improved to 37 wins, their most since they won 40 in 2006-07, and to within a game of the division lead in the Western Conference’s Pacific Division, they still aren’t “in” yet.

As Paul said, “You’ve got to take baby steps.”