With 9 seconds remaining on the shot clock, Blake Griffin ran to the top of the arc to set a screen for Chris Paul. Sacramento Kings forward Jason Thompson, Griffin’s defender, had no choice but to switch onto Paul. As both Thompson and Isaiah Thomas, Paul’s defender, began to close out on him, Paul quickly picked up his dribble and passed to J.J. Redick on the left wing.
Redick fired the ball right back to Paul, who took two dribbles to his right, stepped back and pulled up for a 3-pointer from 27 feet. Splash. The visiting Clippers regained the lead 93-92 after momentarily losing it amid the Kings’ second-half run. More importantly, they never relinquished it, prevailing 110-101 Friday night.
After expending so much energy on both ends in his historic 42-point, 15-assist, 6-steal performance against the Golden State Warriors, it was expected that Paul would have a letdown on the second night of a back-to-back set.
Indeed, Paul started off slowly. He looked exhausted and lacked the assertiveness that picked apart the Warriors’ defense the night before. But in the second half, and especially the fourth quarter, Paul began to relentlessly attack the Kings’ defense and displayed the level of aggressiveness that coach Doc Rivers has challenged him to provide on a consistent basis.
The early favorite for MVP made a handful of clutch plays down the stretch -- including coaxing DeMarcus Cousins into a costly technical foul -- and provided a calming voice throughout a fourth quarter full of adversity.
How it happened: The Clippers took control early and led by nine points at the half. They stretched their lead to 15 points with 8:15 remaining in the third, but the Kings shifted the momentum with a 24-13 run to end the quarter.
The two teams traded baskets for most of the fourth before the Clippers, led by Paul, eventually pulled away.
What it means: It wasn’t easy, and it certainly wasn’t pretty, but the Clippers slugged out a tough road game on the second night of a back-to-back against an underrated opponent. They still have some kinks to iron out -- their defense was abysmal for large stretches of the second half -- but there has been plenty of discernible progress.
Hits: Paul’s 26 points and 10 assists, to go along with only three turnovers.
Griffin continued his impressive play to start the season, tallying 20 points (6-for-13 shooting), 17 rebounds and 6 assists in 41 minutes.
For the second consecutive game, the Clippers won the rebounding battle -- grabbing a 39-35 edge Friday.
Misses: Outside of Crawford and Barnes, the rest of the bench continued to struggle on both ends of the floor. Despite his impressive preseason, Darren Collison has been disappointing thus far.
DeAndre Jordan (five fouls), Ryan Hollins (five) and Byron Mullens (four) were unable to stop Cousins (24 points, 10 rebounds) in one-on-one coverage, and the Kings exploited that advantage during their second-half run.
Thomas (29 points) was able to evade Clippers defenders in pick-and-rolls and transition and penetrate at will. Marcus Thornton (17 points) also gave Redick and Crawford trouble spotting up and coming off screens.
Stat of the game: The Clippers held the Kings to just 35.3 percent (6-for-17) shooting from deep. That’s a major improvement from their first two games against the Lakers (14-for-29, 48.3 percent) and Warriors (12-for-21, 57.1 percent).
Up next: The Clippers will face the Houston Rockets on Monday night at Staples Center. The Dwight Howard- and James Harden-led Rockets will test the Clippers’ perimeter defense with their up-tempo, 3-point-shooting style of play in a matchup of two of the West’s elite teams.