LOS ANGELES — The Los Angeles Clippers survived a scare from the Washington Wizards on Sunday afternoon at Staples Center, winning 114-109 in Blake Griffin’s return to the lineup.
Griffin, who scored 6 points on 2-of-7 shooting in 25 minutes of action, felt a little bit rusty but was confident he would return to full strength soon.
“My conditioning was a little better than I had thought, actually,” Griffin said. “My rhythm was pretty bad, but like I said, I’ll take a couple of games and hopefully over the course of the next four or five games, I can kind of shake that off.”
The Clippers took a 12-point lead late in the fourth thanks several 3-pointers by Jamal Crawford. But the Wizards, on a barrage of long-distance shots themselves, closed the gap to just three after a 3-pointer by John Wall. But Chris Paul knocked down a clutch three with the shot clock winding down to give the Clippers a 6-point advantage with 22 seconds to play, putting the game away.
Despite the late rally by the Wizards, the Clippers’ experience helped lead to their resiliency in the end.
“I think because most of us have been together for a while now, we take a lot of pride in late game execution,” Paul said. “We have been on both sides of those games, losing games and winning games. We are really trying to pay attention to late game execution.”
Paul had a game-high 27 points to go along with 12 assists. J.J. Reddick added 18 points and DeAndre Jordan had 12 points and 12 rebounds.
The Wizards opened the second half on a 10-0 run to cut the Clippers’ double-digit lead down to one. But the Clippers answered after a timeout, scoring eight straight points of their own. Reddick dropped a 3-pointer in transition and Paul knocked down a jumper after a crossover to put the Clippers ahead 68-59 midway through the third quarter. They led by 11 entering the fourth.
“We won the game against a team that had the win,” head coach Doc Rivers. “I will take the good execution and the bad execution [at the end of the game] and be fine with it.”
The Clippers jumped out to a double-digit lead after the first quarter as Paul and Reddick both started out hot. Reddick scored 8 straight points for the Clippers in the first quarter to help them pull away. Griffin’s first points came shortly thereafter on a fitting alley-oop finish off a lob by Paul.
Griffin was admittedly a little tentative, skying above the rim for the first time in months.
“I remember thinking to myself, ‘Please don’t throw it too high,’” Griffin said. “Normally I am ready to go for those, but sprinting full court and then having to jump had me a little worried, but getting out in transition again felt good.”
They were Griffin’s only points of the half, however, as the big man was limited to 11 minutes of action. Paul and Reddick both had 13 at halftime to lead the way for the Clippers, with Reddick’s 3-pointer giving the Clippers a 17-point lead midway through the second quarter.
Jordan finished a pair of alley-oop jams himself in the second quarter, but landed awkwardly on his right ankle after the second one and headed into the locker room. He returned to the game in the second half.
The Clippers took a 60-49 lead into halftime, shooting 58 percent from the field. The Wizards recorded 13 offensive rebounds to two for the Clippers, but Washington shot just 37 percent in the first half.
Griffin has missed the last three months and hasn’t played since Christmas when he suffered a torn left quadriceps tendon. Then, in January, Griffin broke his hand in a fight with the team’s equipment manager. In Griffin’s absence, the Clippers went 30-15 and currently sit at fourth in the Western Conference.
Rivers is confident in Griffin’s mentality.
“I am glad [Blake] is hard on himself, it is what makes him Blake,” Rivers said. “Blake is going to be Blake. Players know who they are. When they do not play well or play to their standards, they get frustrated and they get over it. The great ones tend to get frustrated and then are fine the next day – I think that is Blake.”
With six games left on the schedule, Griffin has little time to get re-acquainted with the Clippers, and vice-versa.
“I was definitely frustrated with myself, even though I know I am not at 100 percent right now,” Griffin said of his quiet offensive performance. “It is going to be a trying process, but I am definitely used to that.”
This post was originally published on TG Sports.