Clippers win sloppy game
L.A. looks flat in most of Saturday's victory over Toronto, but players will take it
LOS ANGELES -- It didn't have to be that tough, what with the visiting Toronto Raptors coming in having lost 17 of their 18 games on the road, missing their leading scorer and just one day removed from an embarrassing 38-point loss at Golden State in which they trailed by as many as 45 points in the fourth quarter.
But it most certainly was, the Los Angeles Clippers struggling to establish any sort of offensive rhythm in Saturday's 94-90 win at Staples Center until they really needed to in the fourth quarter and even looking lost defensively early on as well.
Sloppy is a good way to describe it.
"Well, we had to gut that one out a little bit," Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro said afterward, sighing as he looked down at the boxscore. "The energy early wasn't great. We let them get some confidence early on. But we found a way at the end, and that's what counts.
"On a back-to-back, we'll take it."
They'll take it, and they'll do their collective bests to learn as much as they can from it.
And center Chris Kaman, the elder statesman in the Clippers' rotation, said they could learn plenty.
"You see how important it is to get that defensive stop, how important it is to take your time and set up a good play and finish and knock your free throws," said Kaman, who had 17 points and 12 rebounds. "When you come down, everybody's focused on who they got, what kind of defense you're in, and it's important that everybody is, at the end of the games, more focused that at any point in time in the game, especially when it's close like that."
It was close for the final minutes, the Clippers taking a one-point lead, 83-82, with 4:31 to go on a Blake Griffin dunk assisted by Eric Gordon. L.A. pushed its lead to four for a time before Toronto fought back to lead by one with fewer than two minutes to go. Back-to-back possessions with a Griffin dunk and a Gordon 3-pointer then sealed it for the Clips.
"It means a lot to pull out games," said Griffin, who finished with 22 points, 16 rebounds and five assists. "A win is a win for me. They're hard to come by in this league, so to pull that win out is great.
"At the same time, I think we understand that we have to do a little bit better job in the first three quarters to not put ourselves in that position again."
The position the Clippers were in was not a great one, down 10 points, 80-70, with just over eight minutes to play. But they snapped out of it late and just in time, getting a bunch of close-in shots to fall as the clock ticked and holding the Raptors to only four field goals the rest of the way.
In all, the Clips finished the game on a 24-10 run, Gordon and Griffin combining for 13 of those points.
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The Clippers and Raptors -- who, combined, have just two more wins than the league-leading San Antonio Spurs -- matched up in Toronto last month, midway through the Clippers' monster 11-game, three-week road trip. The Raptors pulled out a five-point win in that game, and that stuck with the Clippers until Saturday, clearly.
In both games, they trailed by seven points entering the fourth quarter. They just played differently in each respective final period.
"The teams that are, record-wise, lower than us, that's who we need to beat," said Gordon, who had 17 points and five assists. "Last time we lost to them, and we've lost to a lot of teams that were worse-ranked than us.
"We've just gotta take care of these type of games when we're the better team."
L.A. has won only 11 of 20 in games against teams with worse records this season, a telling mark for a team that has beat many of the top squads over the 2010-11 season.
Adding to that stat Saturday -- no matter the questionable process -- didn't hurt.
"The most important thing today is we got a win," Kaman said. "We learn every game how to dig it out at the end more and more. Eventually, we hope to be able to be more successful early on in the season and get more road wins and get ourselves in position to make the playoffs.
"That's our goal here, and we're just trying to work toward that."