Coming into Monday night's game between the Los Angeles Clippers and the Golden State Warriors, the Clippers were 4-2 in games decided by three points of less, and the Warriors were 1-6 in the same situation. So with the Clippers leading by two, 97-95, with possession and less than three minutes to go, you had to like L.A.'s chances. Instead, the Warriors scored the final nine points of the game to pull off the exciting 104-97 victory.
Monta Ellis scored 32 points to lead the Warriors, but the real hero for Golden State may have been second-year pro Ekpe Udoh. In his first start of the season filling in for a flu-y Andris Biedrins, Udoh had the kind of game that might keep Biedrins on the bench for a long time. Averaging four points per game on the season with a season-high of 11, Udoh scored 10 in the first quarter to help the Warriors get out to an early lead. He finished the game with a career-high 19 on 9-14 shooting to go along eight rebounds and two blocks.
Doing his part, Ellis was simply amazing. He shot 11 for 20 from the field, without an easy shot in the bunch. He was perfect from the line (6 for 6) and from behind the arc (4 for 4) and every shot he took was contested (except the free throws). David Lee had 24.
After blowing late leads against Portland and Memphis in the last week, it had to feel good to the Warriors to secure the win in the final minutes for once. Brandon Rush's three-pointer with just over two minutes left gave the Warriors the lead at 98-97. After a Chris Paul miss, Ellis hit a tough runner in the lane. Paul next got his shot blocked, and then fouled Stephen Curry, who made both free throws. A Blake Griffin turnover on the Clippers next possession with 40 seconds left effectively settled things.
For Paul it was a complete reversal of his recent performances. Against Portland and San Antonio in his last two games, he's started poorly, but came on strong in the fourth quarter. Monday night, he had 20 at halftime -- and finished with 24, including zero points on four shots in the decisive final period. Griffin was nearly unstoppable in the post against the undersized Warriors -- but he also battled foul trouble all night, and was limited to just 29 minutes of playing time. He finished with 21 points on 10 shots, and 9 rebounds. Mo Williams scored 22 off the Clippers' bench, making 6 of 8 three-pointers, while making just 2 of his 8 two-point attempts. It was that kind of game.
The closing seconds of the first half featured one of the more bizarre sequences you're likely to see. With the Clippers up four and in possession with 40 seconds left in the half, Golden State Coach Mark Jackson called for his players to intentionally foul DeAndre Jordan, a strategy the Clippers suspected he might employ against their poor free throw shooters. Paul overheard the instruction to foul, and put up a half court shot as the whistle was blowing -- which went in. The officials ruled that the basket did not count -- though neither Paul nor Vinny Del Negro seemed quite convinced of the reasoning. Jordan made one of two free throws, and on their possessions, the Warriors scored a Curry three. Now with 15 seconds left, the Warriors went to foul Jordan again, and Paul again launched a long shot from the hip figuring their was nothing to lose -- only for some reason, the whistle didn't blow, and the Warriors took the rebound and scored the final basket of the half, tying the game and giving the Warriors all the momentum heading into halftime. The hack-a-Shaq strategy has never worked so perfectly -- though in a most unconventional manner.
The loss was the first time the Clippers have lost consecutive games since December 29, and it drops them to 19-11. The Warriors improve to 12-17 with the win.