The Los Angeles Clippers accomplished something on Thursday night they don't do very often: they won a game with a merely mortal performance from Chris Paul. A night after Paul carried the Clippers on his back to a huge win in Oklahoma City, L.A. defeated the Minnesota Timberwolves, 95-82, with Paul playing just 29 minutes, scoring eight points and dishing eight assists.
The Timberwolves were without three starters, missing Ricky Rubio (out for the season following ACL surgery), Kevin Love (who suffered a mild concussion in Denver Wednesday) and Luke Ridnour (sprained ankle). But shorthanded as they were, the Wolves battled against a Clippers team that may have taken them a little lightly at the start of the game. Five straight points to open the second quarter gave Minnesota a 10-point lead, but the Clippers seemed to wake up at that point and had the deficit down to one by half time.
A Caron Butler three-pointer on the Clippers' first possession of the second half gave L.A. a lead it never relinquished. The Clippers used a 20-4 run early in the fourth quarter to break the game open. Paul, who has come to the rescue for the Clippers time and again in late game situations, played just 82 seconds in the fourth quarter Thursday night.
The Clippers can be a very good team when their perimeter players are making shots as they were Thursday night. Butler (5-8), Randy Foye (3-8) and Mo Williams (2-4) combined to make half of their 20 three-point attempts, and the Clippers as a team made a dozen. Williams, returning from a toe injury after missing the last 11 games, showed no ill-effects of the long layoff, scoring 14 points off the bench on 6-11 shooting and also handed out five assists.
The Clippers were led by Blake Griffin, with 19 points, 13 rebounds and five assists in a solid all around game. Butler scored 17, all but two of them coming from beyond the arc. DeAndre Jordan had 12 rebounds and three blocked shots in just 23 minutes.
For the Timberwolves, Nikola Pekovic scored 17, and Anthony Randolph and Michael Beasley contributed 16 and 14 off the bench. J.J. Barea had 10 points, 11 assists and eight stitches in his lip, the result of being hit inadvertently by Paul. Rookie Derrick Williams, starting in place of Love, managed just four points in 26 minutes on 1-7 shooting.
For the Clippers, the win helped avoid a season sweep at the hands of the Timberwolves, who had taken the first three meetings. The Clippers have now beaten every Western Conference team at least once.
With Memphis losing in San Antonio Thursday, the Clippers' lead over the Grizzlies for fourth place in the Western Conference increases to a game and a half. They also pull within a game of the Lakers for third place in the conference, first place in the Pacific Division. The Clippers overall record stands at 36-23 and they are now 15-14 on the road. The loss is Minnesota's eighth in a row and officially eliminates them from playoff contention.
For all of Thursday's NBA box scores, check out SI.com's NBA scoreboard.