Chris Paul, the Clippers’ leader and resident closer in tough games, suffered a bruised right elbow with 7 minutes 37 seconds left in the third quarter of their 105-96 victory over the Utah Jazz on Saturday night at Staples Center.
After receiving medical attention while on the Clippers’ bench, Paul went to the locker room. Paul came back onto the court and took a seat on the bench with 11:16 left in the fourth quarter and the Clippers leading, 83-66.
He reentered the game with 11 minutes left to an ovation. Paul wore a red sleeve on his right arm, matching one he wore on his left arm.
You wouldn’t have known Paul was injured from the way he played. He finished with 26 points and six assists, pushing the Clippers to a season-high five-game winning streak.
“Chris hit a nerve,” Clippers Coach Vinny Del Negro said. “Just kind of numbed his fingers. . . . He hit his funny bone, but he’ll be fine.”
Paul was injured after he got trapped by Devin Harris and Paul Millsap in front of the Clippers’ bench. Paul grabbed his elbow and called a timeout.
“It’s a like a stinger,” Paul said. “I just couldn’t feel my last two fingers. I’ll be fine.”
He had the play of the game Saturday, dribbling on a fastbreak with Nick Young on the wing and Blake Griffin trailing.
Paul looked back at Griffin and, with the ball in front of him and dribbling with his right hand, pushed his dribble between his legs and caught the ball behind him with the same hand, freezing the Jazz defender.
He waltzed in for a layup and a 94-82 Clippers lead.
Because of Paul’s play, Griffin’s 24 points and Randy Foye’s 17 points, the Clippers had a strong conclusion to the month of March, which figured to be taxing physically and mentally, and possibly a defining month for their season.
It figured to be a month that would either drag the Clippers down -- which it almost did -- or bring them together, as it seems to have done. They ended up going 11-9 for the month.
The 20 games made them the first NBA team in 45 years to play at least that many in a single month. The last team was the Cincinnati Royals in February 1967.
During the month, the Clippers played five games in a week twice. They played six sets of back-to-back games -- including the set just concluded, Friday night against Portland and Saturday night against Utah.
The Clippers also played one fateful set of back-to-back-to-back games in March. They lost all three of those games, at Indiana, Oklahoma City and New Orleans, leading to speculation that Del Negro had lost the locker room and that his job was in jeopardy.
But the Clippers finished the month by turning things around and sweeping the just-completed five-game homestand.
That allowed the Clippers, who have won their last eight home games, to finish the month of March with a winning record.
“It has been a difficult month with the number of games,” Del Negro said. “It’s going to be good to get March behind us, that’s for sure.”
The Clippers looked anything but tired in the first quarter, even though it was their third game in four days.
They were in a groove in the first, making 68.2% of their shots, 75% (six for eight) of their three-point attempts.
They opened a 17-point in the first and increased that to 19 points in the second quarter.