LOS ANGELES (AP)—After blowing a 21-point third-quarter lead and barely hanging on at the finish, the Golden State Warriors were thankful the Los Angeles Clippers were so dreadful from the free-throw line. Dorell Wright scored 18 of his 20 points in the first half, Monta Ellis added 19 points and 11 assists, and the Warriors knocked the Clippers—who missed 16 of 35 foul shots—out of first place in the Pacific Division with a 97-93 victory Sunday night. David Lee had 18 points and 10 rebounds after spending most of the game in foul trouble, helping beat the Clippers on the road for the fourth straight time.
“It was a big-time win for us. It was certainly a gut-check,” coach Mark Jackson said. “We don’t have a history of responding when the volume is increased. They battled back, they has some great energy and effort plays, and they made it a ballgame. We helped by not being aggressive offensively. They had the momentum in a tie ballgame and the crowd going crazy, but I loved the fact that my guys settled down, made plays and continued to get stops.” Stephen Curry, a game-time decision due to a mildly sprained right ankle, was in the starting lineup and missed three shots before going to the bench with 5:53 left in the first quarter. He played 10 scoreless minutes.
“I just felt it wasn’t right to throw him out there,” Jackson said. “He looked like he was gutting it out. We were up 17 at the time, and I told him: `If we can’t close this out, then we don’t deserve to win.”’ Blake Griffin had 27 points and 12 rebounds for the Clippers. The loss, coupled with the Lakers’ 97-94 victory over the Boston Celtics a few hours earlier in the first half of the Staples Center doubleheader, put the Clippers a full game behind their L.A. rivals in the race for the Pacific Division lead and homecourt advantage in the opening round of the playoffs.
Clippers All-Star guard Chris Paul, who tied a season high with 36 points in Friday night’s 120-108 win at San Antonio despite suffering a nasal fracture in the first quarter, went the Kobe Bryant route and wore a clear protective facemask against the Warriors.
“It was my first time wearing one,” Paul said. “I found out after the game in San Antonio that I’d probably have to wear one. It’s the first time I’ve ever been hit in my nose, so it’s a first time for everything. It’s different, but it doesn’t inhibit anything.”
Paul finished with 23 points and five assists, but couldn’t mask his disappointment over the Clippers’ foul-line futility.
“That’s the real story of this. We beat ourselves,” Paul said. “The bad part of it is how we started out. We dug ourselves our own hole. We were getting a lot of open shots, but at some point, you can’t hope they miss. You’ve got to make yours.”
The Clippers began a six-game homestand by making only six of 22 shots in the first quarter, while the Warriors jumped out to a 28-16 lead with 16 points by Wright—including four 3-pointers and an alley-oop dunk off a lob from Ellis.
“My teammates were in a great rhythm tonight and I was able to find them,” Ellis said.
The Clippers trailed 55-42 at intermission after missing 11 of 23 free throws—including an air ball by DeAndre Jordan. Rookie Klay Thompson and Brandon Rush hit 3-pointers at both ends of a 10-2 spurt that extended Golden State’s lead to 14.
“We shouldn’t put ourselves in that position in the first place,” Griffin said. “But I guess if you could try to take a positive from this, it’s that we are capable of coming back against a team like that.”
Ellis, who scored 32 points against the Clippers in a 104-97 win on Feb. 20 at Oakland, quieted the sellout crowd momentarily by hitting a fadeaway 16-footer with 12.6 seconds left in the third quarter after Los Angeles sliced a 21-point deficit to 76-64 with a 9-0 run capped by Randy Foye’s 3-pointer. Mo Williams, whose season-high 33 points against the Spurs helped snap the Clippers’ string of 17 straight losses at San Antonio, missed his first seven shots in 25 scoreless minutes before ending the drought with a 3-pointer that sliced the Warriors’ lead to 83-81 with 5:38 to play.
“Obviously we have to look at that and see how we can do a better job—how I can do a better job—of getting him involved and getting him open shots and easy shots—not shots that he really works for and forces,” Griffin said. “We have playmakers all over the floor, and we try to have a balanced attack. We don’t want to pound it inside every time—especially when we have a guy like Chris at the point.”
Griffin, who missed eight of 15 free throws, converted Eric Bledsoe’s inbounds pass from the baseline into a dunk that tied the score at 83 with 4 1/2 minutes remaining. But they weren’t able to pull ahead.
The Warriors regained the lead on Ellis’ driving reverse layup with 3 minutes to go, and Rush added a midair dunk off an offensive rebound before Lee, who picked up his fifth foul 56 seconds into the final quarter, added a twisting layup with 1:27 left.
Notes: Eight of the Clippers’ 16 losses have been decided by five points or fewer, including back-to-back one-point defeats on their 3-3 road trip. … Trailing 67-50, Los Angeles received an unconventional technical foul for having six players on the court. … The Clippers (23-16) are 8-9 since starting G Chauncey Billups suffered a torn left Achilles tendon that ended his season. … Paul extended his consecutive-game streak with at least one steal to 43. … Clippers reserve F Kenyon Martin missed his second straight game with sore ribs.