HOUSTON -- While Chris Paul is unquestionably an MVP candidate, Los Angeles Clippers guard Jamal Crawford continues to state his case for an All-Star Game selection despite not having started one game this season.
The Clippers performed exceptionally without Paul for a second consecutive game, taking their cue from Crawford en route to a 117-109 victory over the Houston Rockets on Tuesday night at Toyota Center.
Crawford poured in 30 points in 29 minutes off the bench as the Clippers (30-9) matched the league-leading Oklahoma City Thunder in victories. Los Angeles' reserves once again struck the decisive blow, sparking the rally that shifted momentum in the team's favor.
"We all pull for each other," said Crawford, the Clippers' third-leading scorer at 16.6 points per game. "We're all in it together, and that's how we win."
After the Rockets (21-18) shook off a sluggish start to the second quarter with a signature 13-4 burst keyed by transition play and perimeter sharpshooting, Crawford and reserve forward Matt Barnes scored nine consecutive points to cut the Rockets' largest lead, 52-45, 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. That set the stage for the Clippers' runaway third period.
The Clippers opened the third with a 10-0 spurt, with Blake Griffin and Bledsoe combining for eight points. 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 driving layup with 5:31 left in the quarter.
"We knew we didn't play well in the first half and we were only down one (59-58)," Barnes said. "So we knew if we started playing our game and got stops, we'd be able to blow this game open. The starters did a great job with that, and the bench came in and we did our job as well."
The Clippers, who throttled the Grizzlies 99-73 in Memphis, hit nine consecutive shots Tuesday to build an 18-point lead. Their ballyhooed reserves contributed 54 points, but their starters weren't bad either. Bledsoe and Green tallied season highs of 19 and 15 points, respectively. Griffin added 19 points and eight rebounds.
"We didn't play very well," Rockets coach Kevin McHale said of the decisive third quarter. "They came out with much higher energy than we did."
The Rockets dropped their fourth consecutive game and had their three-game home court win streak snapped. James Harden led the Rockets with 23 points, while Jeremy Lin added 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 and led by as many as 21 points in the fourth.
The Rockets' inability to get stops, even without having to contend with Paul, proved to be their undoing.
"We've got to get better, especially on the defensive end," Harden said. "We scored (109 points), but defensively, we have to guard in order to win games. It's simple: We're not guarding anyone."
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 had four points and two assists 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," McHale said. "And they're deep."