Sweet 16 faded and was replaced by a physical and, at times, surly-looking 17.
The Clippers’ path to their 17th consecutive win wasn’t exactly smooth Sunday night, looking more like one painful floor burn. They were pushed, and they pushed back hard in a 107-96 victory over the Utah Jazz at Staples Center behind Caron Butler’s 29 points, which included six-for-six shooting from three-point range.
The victory completed a 16-0 December that made them the third team in NBA history to go unbeaten in a calendar month. The Lakers went undefeated in November and December 1971, the season of their record 33-game win streak. And the San Antonio Spurs, armed with a certain player named Vinny Del Negro, went 16-0 in March 1996.
“I’m just proud of the guys. It’s been a great month for us,” said Del Negro, the Clippers’ coach. “We enjoy it for about . . . usually when we win, we jump up and down once or twice in the locker room. Tonight we let them jump up about three or four times.”
How about 17 times?
The Clippers have not lost since Nov. 26 against New Orleans. Now that December is out of the way . . . the next milestone will be the 19-game winning streak the Boston Celtics put together in 2008-09.
“Wow. I really didn’t know it was a month,” said Clippers center DeAndre Jordan, who insisted he was not being sarcastic. “That’s crazy.”
Said Blake Griffin, who was held to seven points: “It’s unreal. It’s something that keeps happening. We don’t really talk about it. It wasn’t like, ‘OK guys, let’s try to win all our games in December.’
“It just happened. It’s a tribute to everybody in here. Everybody has been a huge part, one night or another. It’s been unreal how many different ways we’ve won. And which guys have shown up and how they’ve shown up.
“Some guys haven’t scored. Some guys have played defense, gotten stops, gotten turnovers.”
Griffin has failed score in double digits just three times this season, including a season-low of four points — in that Nov. 26 game, the last one the Clippers lost.
Sunday, the Jazz came at him the way you might expect when teams play a home-and-home series in the span of three days. Griffin, who had seven rebounds, received a technical foul in the second quarter but kept on pushing forward.
“They tried to take Blake out of the game early,” said Chris Paul, who had 19 points and nine assists. “They got some early fouls. They doubled him. They doubled him from the jump. That’s the ultimate respect when you get double-teamed. Blake did a great job of finding the open guy.”
The trademark of the winning streak has been the multiple weapons the Clippers have unveiled. This time it was mostly Butler, who carried the Clippers early, scoring 17 of their 29 points in the first quarter, when hit went six for eight from the field.
“My teammates were definitely keeping me open,” Butler said.
“Caron was out of his mind,” Griffin said.
Reserve Jamal Crawford was the closer, scoring 11 of his 19 points in the fourth quarter.
For Utah, Al Jefferson scored a game-high 30 points. The Jazz chipped away at a 12-point third-quarter deficit, briefly taking the lead late in the quarter. Utah stayed close in the fourth until Matt Barnes hit a three-pointer with 3:12 remaining to push the Clippers’ lead to 98-90.
Another night, another star and another win.
The Clippers are liking that repetition.
“It’s kind of a selfless attitude the team has taken on,” Griffin said. “It’s fun. This is the most fun I’ve ever had playing basketball.”