By Mark Lamport-Stokes
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The best teams in the National Basketball Association are typically able to win games "playing ugly", and Los Angeles Clippers coach Doc Rivers wants to see his players develop this attribute.
Rivers was delighted with the outcome at a packed Staples Center on Saturday, but readily admitted he was taken aback by his team's ability to deliver the 'ugly' script on cue as they overcame an erratic display to beat the Utah Jazz 98-90.
"You're playing hard, things still aren't going right and you've got to find a way to win," the husky-voiced Rivers told reporters after the (21-11) Clippers took control of the game after the score was tied at 90-90 with 2:25 left.
"And that's the team I want us to become one day. I didn't mean tonight but I will take tonight.
"Every time we got a 10-point, nine-point lead, it was almost guaranteed we're going to have three turnovers in a row or bobble the ball. It was just one of those nights. We just made enough plays to win the game."
Power forward Blake Griffin shrugged off a career-high eight turnovers to pile up 40 points on 13-for-20 shooting, along with 10 rebounds, while All-Star point guard Chris Paul narrowly missed a rare triple-double.
Paul, playmaker extraordinaire for the Clippers and so often their prime closer, finished with 21 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists as he and Griffin inspired one another with their 'must win' energy in the fourth quarter.
"We just tried to get out the win, it's not going to be pretty every night," Paul ruefully said after the Clippers ended a two-game losing streak by fending off a spirited fightback by the (9-24) Jazz.
"We missed a lot of easy shots, I missed a few layups and we didn't convert a lot of lobs tonight but when it was winning time (late in the fourth quarter), we converted.
"Me and Blake have been talking a lot before the jump ball about dominating and being aggressive, both of us, because I think the team feeds off our energy. So we're just trying to keep rolling, keep piling up wins and playing the right way."
FREE THROW IMPROVEMENT
Griffin, a three-time All-Star, has averaged 26.9 points, 11.1 rebounds and 3.4 assists in his last eight games while improving his once woeful free throw percentage to an impressive 80.6 percent. Paul is not at all surprised.
"His confidence right now is pretty high, and rightfully so," said Paul, a six-time All-Star. "It's great to see how he's dominated games, whether he's taking jump shots, posting up or going to the free throw line.
"It's fun to watch and I wouldn't know how to guard him. It's not just the offensive end, it's the defensive end, his rebounding. And it's contagious because I feed off of it."
Perhaps the most impressive thing about the Clippers' win was that they avoided an emotional hangover after suffering heart-breaking losses on the road in their previous two games, to the Golden State Warriors and the Portland Trail Blazers.
"We just had to regroup," said Griffin, referring to the 116-112 defeat in overtime by Portland on Thursday and the 105-103 loss to Golden State on Christmas Day. "It's about mentally moving on and learning from our mistakes.
"My team mates just kept giving me the ball and giving me the confidence. They did their work and put me in a position to score easily, so I had to finish for them."
Though Rivers was a frustrated figure as the Clippers trailed the Jazz after each of the first two quarters before ending the night with 13 turnovers, he felt his team was on the brink of achieving something special.
"It was amazing," Rivers said. "We miss how many dunks and lobs? It was one of those games and it's nice to win them. When you have the talent that we have, it's more trying to get guys to play in the right spirit every night.
"And we're getting there. I think our team is really close. I've been saying it for a week or two, you can feel it. We're close to being really good."
(Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes; Editing by Gene Cherry)