Balanced Clippers dump Hornets

Peter Finney Jr., The Sports Xchange
The SportsXchange

NEW ORLEANS -- After starting a four-game road trip with an overtime loss to the Dallas Mavericks on Tuesday night, the Los Angeles Clippers were in no mood to let the New Orleans Hornets compound their misery.
Behind a focused 19-point effort by Blake Griffin and a 16-point, nine-assist homecoming by Chris Paul -- as well as deadly perimeter shooting and solid bench scoring -- the Clippers defeated the Hornets 105-91 Wednesday night at the New Orleans Arena.
The Clippers (49-23) had five players score in double figures. In addition to Griffin and Paul, Caron Butler and Jamal Crawford had 13 points each. Chauncey Billups added 11 in the first half before tweaking his right groin muscle and sitting out the second half.
The Clippers bench accounted for 39 points and for eight of the Clippers' 13 3-pointers (in 29 attempts). The second-unit support was so good that Paul had a chance to rest down the stretch after being worn down while scoring 33 points in the 109-102 OT loss to the Mavericks.
"That's huge for me to come back in with 4:30 left in the fourth and (we have) an eight-point cushion," said Paul, who played his first six seasons with the Hornets. "That's love. That just says a lot about our second unit."
The Hornets tried to double-team Paul into giving up the ball, but he simply found open teammates who were ready to knock down open 3-pointers. The Clippers hit three jumpers from long range in the final 43 seconds of the first half to open a 56-48 lead.
Then, when Billups tweaked his groin after going 3-for-3 from long distance in the first half, reserve guard Willie Green, an ex-Hornet, came in and nailed two 3-pointers in the first six minutes of the third quarter.
"Last night we weren't able to capitalize on some of our shots that we usually can make," Los Angeles coach Vinny Del Negro said. "Tonight we were able to do that. We were able to spread them out a little bit. If they are good-rhythm shots, I'm fine with them. It really helps open up the game for everybody, obviously, when we are making shots."
The Clippers had lost 11 of their previous 12 road games against the Hornets (25-47), but they made New Orleans pay for a collapsing defense. The Clippers also made 24 of 28 free-throw attempts.
Los Angeles outscored New Orleans 26-14 in the fourth quarter to snap the Hornets' three-game winning streak compiled against teams headed to the playoffs.
"I thought for the most part we forgot about how we won these past three games -- defending, moving the ball and playing with a level of force that's necessary to have a chance to compete," Hornets coach Monty Williams said. "I thought once the fourth quarter started, they had control of the game. They had so many open looks tonight."
The Clippers built a 61-50 lead with 9:44 left in the third quarter, but the Hornets went on a 19-9 run to cut the deficit to 70-69. Eric Gordon and Anthony Davis were the offensive catalysts, with Gordon driving to the basket at every opportunity and Davis hitting mid-range jumpers after Gordon's penetration.
But after Ryan Anderson tipped in a Brian Roberts miss to draw the Hornets within 81-79, Eric Bledsoe and Matt Barnes nailed back-to-back 3s -- the 11th and 12th of the game for the Clippers -- and Los Angeles again padded its lead to 87-79 with 10 minutes left. Los Angeles extended the lead to 98-85 with 4:27 remaining on a foul shot by Griffin.
Gordon paced the Hornets with 24 points, and Davis added 19 points and nine rebounds.
After the game, Kentucky coach John Calipari, in New Orleans on a recruiting trip, said he loved what he saw in Davis, who has made huge strides in the second half of the season. Davis made nine of 13 shots from the field, including four mid-range jumpers.
"He's a big man, and he's still figuring out what he can do and cannot do," Calipari said of the 6-foot-10 forward who was the best player on his NCAA championship team last year. "They're going to try to rough him up. But Monty's been playing him all year, and he's figuring it out, slowly but surely."
Asked about Davis' surprising shooting touch, Calipari simply smiled. Once Davis can hit the 15- to 17-foot jumper consistently, Calipari said, "it's going to be death" for Davis' opponents.
NOTES: Billups said he wanted to be smart and shut himself down after tweaking the groin injury late in the second quarter. Billups said he did not know what his status would be for Friday night's game at San Antonio. ... After the game, Calipari kiddingly asked Billups, a 15-year NBA vet, who was going to retire first: Billups or himself. "Probably you," Billups said. ... Paul bought more than 100 tickets to the game for local youth. He also had his pastor sitting on the baseline watching the game. "This is my family," Paul said. "I've still got so many emotional ties. When I was warming up before the game, I told Lamar Odom, 'I've scored a lot of baskets on this court -- and a few of them on you.'" ... Williams said Paul has impressed him by taking on more of a scoring role this year. "He's a great passer, but this year I think he's probably feeling better as far has legs are concerned, so he's scoring a lot more," Williams said. "He has so many weapons around him that it's hard to double-team him."

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