HOUSTON -- While Chris Paul is unquestionably an MVP candidate, the Los Angeles Clippers performed exceptionally without him for a second consecutive night, rolling past the Houston Rockets 117-109 Tuesday at Toyota Center.
Reserve guard Jamal Crawford poured in 30 points in just 28 minutes as the Clippers (30-9) matched the Western Conference-leading Oklahoma City Thunder in victories. Los Angeles' bench again struck the decisive blow, sparking the rally that shifted momentum to the Clippers for good.
After the Rockets (21-18) shook off a sluggish start to the second quarter with a sudden 13-4 burst, Crawford and reserve forward Matt Barnes scored nine consecutive points to cut the Rockets' 52-45 lead to three points. Backup point guard Eric Bledsoe, starting in place of Paul, who has a bruised right kneecap, closed the second quarter with four successive points to set the stage for the Clippers' runaway third period.
The Clippers opened the third with a 10-0 run as Blake Griffin and Bledsoe combined for eight points during that spurt. Willie Green chimed in with 11 points over the ensuing four minutes, including a three-point play at the heart of another 10-0 run that built the Clippers' lead to 83-65 on a Bledsoe layup with 5:30 remaining in the quarter.
One night after throttling the Grizzlies 99-73 in Memphis, the Clippers received 54 points from their ballyhooed bench. Their starters weren't bad either, with Bledsoe, Griffin and Green combining for 53 points.
The Rockets dropped their fourth consecutive game and had their three-game home court winning streak snapped. James Harden led Houston with 23 points, while Jeremy Lin had a double-double (12 points, 10 assists). Carlos Delfino and Marcus Morris totaled 28 points off the bench.
Miserable shooting doomed the Rockets both from the free-throw line, where they shot 14-for-25, and from behind the 3-point arc, where they went 13-for-37. The Clippers, meanwhile, hit 22 of 26 free throws and 11 of 19 3-pointers.
NOTES: Clippers forward Grant Hill, 40, became the 20th active player with 1,000 games played. Hill, whose career has included stops in Detroit, Orlando, and Phoenix, made his Clippers debut on Jan. 12. He scored four points in 16 minutes Tuesday. ... Bledsoe made his first start of the season Monday, posting 14 points, four assists, three rebounds and two steals against the Grizzlies. "I thought he was solid throughout," Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro said. "I thought his pace was good; he had no turnovers. I thought he got us into our sets when he needed to. I thought he had a nice command of his own game, which really helped settle us down when we needed to." ... Paced by veterans Crawford, Barnes and Lamar Odom, the Clippers' bench is arguably the most versatile in the league. "They've got a nice blend of youth and veterans," Rockets coach Kevin McHale said. "And they're deep."