The Los Angeles Clippers have been in first place in the NBA's Pacific Division, if only by percentage points at times, since Jan. 14, when they beat the other L.A. team to take over the division lead. On Sunday, at the conclusion of the Lakers' victory over the Heat, the Clippers found themselves in second place for the first time in seven weeks. Their game in Houston against the Rockets, tipping off about an hour after the conclusion of the Lakers game, would determine how long they would stay there. Before the night was over, the Clippers found themselves back in first place, by the slimmest of margins, which is fitting given that they needed overtime to overcome the Rockets, 105-103.
The game could hardly have been closer. Neither team led by more than seven the entire evening. During the middle two quarters, the game never went longer than four minutes without a tie or a lead change. The Clippers used a 10-2 run in the fourth to build their largest lead of the game at 89-83 with four minutes left and appeared to be in control, but the Rockets battled their way back. A 9-2 Houston run put the Rockets back up by one.
In the final 70 seconds of regulation, the lead changed hands five times, and it seemed as if the last team to have the ball might win the game. A steal and layup by Mo Williams gave L.A. the lead. A Kevin Martin jumper put Houston back on top. Two Chris Paul free throws, advantage Clippers. Two Luis Scola free throws, Houston up one. A Chris Paul jumper put L.A. back up with 25 seconds left. On the subsequent Rockets possession, Samuel Dalembert was fouled right at the rim, and his potential three-point play barely rolled out -- he made just one of two free throws to leave the game tied at 97 with 18 seconds left, giving the Clippers one last chance to win the game in regulation. Paul swished a 20-footer, but it came a split second too late.
In the extra period, the Rockets took an early three-point lead. But the Clippers clamped down on defense the rest of the way, and Paul manufactured five straight points with a bucket, an assist, and a free throw to give the Clippers a two-point lead with five seconds left. The Rockets had one final opportunity to win, but Kevin Martin's three-pointer came up just short at the buzzer.
Paul was absolutely huge for the Clippers. He finished with 28 points and 10 assists and made every key play down the stretch. All but six of his points came after halftime. Blake Griffin struggled from the field for the second straight game, but still managed a 14 point, 11 rebound double-double, and also came up with a key steal in the final minute of overtime. Three other Clippers had either 14 or 15 points.
For the Rockets, Martin finished with 25, Dalembert had 17 and Scola finished with 16. The Rockets shot 10-for-20 on three-pointers to help keep them in the game, including the 3-of-3 by Courtney Lee.
With the win, the Clippers move to 22-13 overall, 10-8 on the road. It was the Rockets' third consecutive loss, dropping them to 21-17, 15-6 at home.