For Chris Paul, this game was personal. It always is any time he goes up against his former team, the New Orleans Hornets. Last season, before his first visit to New Orleans in a different uniform, Paul fondly said: "I'm emotionally connected to that team forever."
Throw in a disappointing overtime loss to the Dallas Mavericks on Tuesday night -- a game in which Paul scored 33 points and carried the Los Angeles Clippers -- and Paul definitely wasn't going to let his team fall to the 14th-place Hornets and head into a daunting matchup with the San Antonio Spurs on Friday 0-2 on the current four-game trip.
That's why it was no surprise Paul made the go-ahead bucket with 1:31 left to seal the victory, giving the Clippers a commanding 101-91 lead. He wasn't done just yet.
Paul hounded Hornets point guard Greivis Vasquez into a jump ball, secured a defensive rebound, grabbed an offensive rebound, made a free throw and then stole another pass from Vasquez -- all in just a minute and a half. In all, Paul had 16 points, six rebounds and nine assists, far from his superhero performance against the Mavericks, but enough to get the Clippers a 105-91 win over the Hornets.
Here are three takeaways from the game:
Griffin breaks out of his slump
One of the key reasons the Clippers were able to rest Paul down the stretch was because Blake Griffin stepped up with 19 points, the most he has scored in four games. That's significant because Griffin had really struggled in his previous three games, averaging just 10.7 points on 31.3 percent shooting and culminating in his late-game disappearance in Dallas. As the Clippers jockey for playoff positioning, they need top-notch production from Griffin.
Billups re-aggravates right groin strain
Chauncey Billups checked out of the game with 10:40 left in the third quarter, going straight to the locker room and did not return. Before leaving abruptly, Billups was having a breakout performance, making 3-of-4 3-pointers and leading all Clippers scorers with 11 points at the half. In his absence, Jamal Crawford scored 13 points and Willie Green chipped in six points with a couple of 3-pointers.
"Chauncey Billups was huge for us in the first half, getting us some separation," Paul said in a postgame television interview on Prime Ticket.
On Nov. 26, the Hornets defeated the Clippers 105-98, making 15 3-pointers and thoroughly embarrassing the Clippers' defense. On Wednesday, the Clippers returned the favor, making 13 3-pointers, including a flurry of four straight 3s to end the first half -- highlighted by Billups' bank-in 3-pointer with 0.1 seconds left. Meanwhile, the Hornets made only four 3-pointers. Although Vasquez, Eric Gordon and Ryan Anderson combined to go an uncharacteristic 0-for-10 on 3s, it's encouraging to see improvement from the Clippers' defense around the arc, one of their notable weaknesses all season.