Minnesota led by five with possession and just 40 seconds remaining and seemingly had the game in hand. But a steal by Chris Paul produced two Paul free throws that cut the lead to three with 29 seconds left. The Clippers then got the stop they needed, and called timeout with just under five seconds remaining. They inbounded the ball to an open Paul, who was fouled on his three-point attempt by Derrick Williams. Paul, who was 6-6 from the line to that point, stepped up and made the first two -- but with a chance to tie the game and force overtime, he came up short on the final free throw and Minnesota escaped with the win.
For the second consecutive game, Kevin Love was a complete beast. After putting up 42 points and 10 rebounds in the Wolves' win over Portland on Saturday, he posted 39 and 17 against the Clippers. He set the tone early in this one: after the Clippers had raced out to an 8-2 lead in the opening moments, Love personally reeled off 11 consecutive points in 90 seconds on three three-pointers and a layup. The Wolves only trailed for 51 seconds the rest of the game.
Three-point shooting helped Minnesota build a 15-point lead early in the second quarter. But the Clippers battled back to make it a ball game, going on two separate 10-0 runs, the second one just before halftime, to make it a one-point game at the intermission. But Minnesota reasserted themselves in the third quarter to build the lead back up to 10 heading into the final period.
The Clippers did a lot of things right to get back into the game in the final minutes -- but they also did a lot of things wrong to keep them from getting over the top. They played stingy defense, holding the Wolves to 33 percent shooting in the fourth quarter -- but gave up six offensive rebounds, including one in the final minute. They made it difficult for Minnesota to score -- but gave them two free points on technical fouls. And as they were trying to climb out of a deficit, Blake Griffin missed four consecutive free throws in the final four minutes.
The key play of the game came with under three minutes remaining and the Wolves up five. Paul stole the ball from Ricky Rubio and seemed to have an advantage on the Spanish rookie heading in for a layup. But instead of taking the ball to the rim, Paul decided to lay it off to a trailing Griffin, presumably for the monster jam that would pump up the entire team. Unfortunately, Luke Ridnour was running with Griffin and managed to commit the foul to keep Griffin from elevating. As Griffin went down, he pulled Ridnour down with him, earning a technical foul in the ensuing melee. Ridnour made the technical free throw, Griffin missed a pair, and instead of cutting the lead to three, it grew to six. Had Paul kept the ball on that play, he would surely have done no worse than two free throws for himself. Instead, the Clippers lost a point in the transaction. Not a good exchange in a one-point loss.
For the Clippers, Griffin finished with 26 points and 12 rebounds -- a great game that was dwarfed by Love's monster night. Mo Williams had 19 off the bench and Paul had 18, though he struggled from the field making just 5-14 field goal attempts. In support of Love, Derrick Williams scored 15 (14 in the second quarter) and Darko Milicic scored 13.
With the win the Wolves move above .500 at 20-19. The loss drops the 22-14 Clippers out of first place in the Pacific Division for the first time since mid-January, a half-game behind the Lakers.