For the first time in over a month, the Los Angeles Clippers had won three games in a row entering Friday night. Their "turnaround" couldn't have come at a better time as they approached their final four games of the regular season.
As the scheduling gods have made it, the Clippers are finishing the season with three of the last four games on the road -- two back-to-backs and the second game of those back-to-backs on the road.
It's certainly not an ideal position to be in for a team that probably needs to win out to have home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs. It's also partly why the Clippers would have ideally liked to make quick work of their opponent on the first night of those back-to-backs and rest their starters (if possible) for the next game. It seemed entirely possible with the Clippers opening with non-playoff teams.
But nothing for the Clippers has been ideal over the second half of the season, as they have been unable to establish any kind of consistency. That was on display for much of Friday night in New Orleans, as the Clippers trailed by 10 points against the Hornets before finally storming back to win 96-93, keeping their home-court hopes alive in the process.
Here are three takeaways from the game:
Whenever the Clippers are in the midst of a close game in the waning minutes of the fourth quarter, Chris Paul will turn to his teammates and say, "It's winning time." That usually means Paul is getting ready to take over the game. It seemed unlikely that Paul would be able to do that Friday as he sat on the bench in the fourth quarter, his right knee wrapped after scoring only seven points. That all changed when Paul checked back into the game. He scored 10 points in less than nine minutes in the fourth quarter and finished with 17 points, 14 assists and two steals. He scored the Clippers' last six points from the free throw line and his step-back jump shot with less than a minute left gave the Clippers a 88-85 lead they wouldn't relinquish.
Paul and Bledsoe
For weeks -- well, actually since the start of the season -- Clippers fans have been clamoring for coach Vinny Del Negro to play Paul alongside Eric Bledsoe. With Chauncey Billups injured and Willie Green more suited to be a reserve, most wanted to see what Paul and Bledsoe could do if paired together. Against New Orleans they looked incredible. Bledsoe played the entire fourth quarter and scored nine points and also had the block of the game when he denied former teammate Eric Gordon at the rim with 7:43 left. If Gordon had been able to finish, the Hornets would have been up by 12 points. Instead, the defensive play sparked the Clippers to a 25-10 run and the victory.
Shooting and rebounding woes
The Clippers simply couldn't hit any kind of shot through long stretches on Friday night. At one point before their fourth-quarter run, they were shooting 40 percent from the field, 20 percent from the 3-point line and 43 percent from the free throw line. The Clippers have grown accustomed to overcoming their free throw shooting issues, but there was no reason for them to jack up 26 3-point attempts when they couldn't make any for most of the game (they hit seven total). ... There are few stats that drive home effort and energy more than rebounds, and it's no surprise the Hornets outrebounded the Clippers 48-41. More than being outrebounded as a team, the disappointment was from the effort of the Clippers' big men on the boards. Blake Griffin had five rebounds, DeAndre Jordan had three and Caron Butler had one. Combined, they were all outrebounded by Matt Barnes, who came off the bench and had 16 points and 10 rebounds.