Chris Paul did it again.
As he has so many times for the Clippers this season, Paul delivered in the game’s most tense moments, lifting them to a 98-97 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers on Friday night at Staples Center.
Paul’s driving layup with 5.0 seconds left were the final points of the game. He beat Portland’s J.J. Hickson off the dribble with a modified crossover move to score the last of his 20 points on eight-for-13 shooting. He also had 14 assists, including one to Randy Foye (20 points) for a three-pointer that gave the Clippers a one-point lead in the final minute.
But the Clippers didn’t escape until Wesley Matthews missed a left-handed layup, securing their fourth consecutive win.
The Clippers equaled their longest winning streak this season because Paul was their closer, the one who delivered another victory.
“It’s cool, but I’m used to it,” Paul, who also had four steals, said about being the go-to guy in the clutch. “I’ve started every day since I’ve been in the NBA. I’ve been in this situation a number of times.”
The Clippers have won their last seven home games, but this victory over Portland wasn’t easy by any means.
The Clippers also have won the first four games of a five-game homestand that concludes Saturday night against the Utah Jazz.
“It’s a win,” Clippers Coach Vinny Del Negro said. “It wasn’t ,obviously, our best performance, but we’ll take it.”
Portland didn’t have All-Star forward LaMarcus Aldridge (left elbow sprain), but his replacement, Hickson, filled in nicely, producing season-highs in points (29) and rebounds (13).
The Trail Blazers got Hickson, who was two points shy of his career high, after he was waived by Sacramento on March 21. This was his fifth game with them.
“When a guy doesn’t play of the magnitude of LaMarcus Aldridge, other guys on that team stepped up,” Paul said.
But with 57.8 seconds left, Hickson went to the free-throw line with his team leading by two points and missed two free throws, opening the door for the Clippers.
The Clippers put the ball in the hands of Paul, who penetrated Portland’s defense, forcing the Trail Blazers to collapse on him.
Paul then found Foye, whose three-pointer gave the Clippers a 96-95 lead with 47.8 seconds left.
Foye played good defense on Jamal Crawford, forcing him to miss a jumper.
But Raymond Felton hustled for the rebound and called a timeout with 29.6 seconds left.
Then Crawford made a 22-foot jumper for a 97-96 Trail Blazers lead.
But there was more than enough time left for Paul to deliver yet again.
And as soon as Hickson switched off on Paul, the Clippers’ All-Star guard did a left-right crossover dribble to get to the basket for a layup.
“I’d seen him enough to see him [Hickson] guard me,” Paul said. “That’s why we set a ball-screen anyway at the end, just in case he was guarding me.”