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Clippers get one at last

March 16, 2009|Lisa Dillman

And now for something completely different. . . .

For starters, a buzzer-beating three-pointer for a Clippers victory.

What else would you expect but the least expected in this most Monty Python-esque of Clippers seasons?

Steve Novak nailed the 24-foot three-pointer from the left baseline just before the buzzer, giving the Clippers a 107-105 victory over the New Jersey Nets on Sunday night at Staples Center, reclaiming a lead that appeared to have been lost for good.

Novak hit a career-high seven three-pointers (finishing with 21 points, going seven for 11) to lead the Clippers, and the last three-pointer had a transformative effect, making the downtrodden Clippers look like a bunch of celebratory little kids on a playground.

A giddy Novak ran down the court, took in a big hug from Baron Davis and was mobbed by teammates as they jumped up and down.

For the Clippers, it was Sweet 16. But not in the way it would appear.

It was their 16th victory of the season -- in 66 games.

"This was like our tournament, our Final Four out there," said Marcus Camby, who had nine points and six rebounds. "We all had flashbacks."

Speaking of flashbacks, this nearly turned into Cleveland, the sequel. The victory did not come without the usual angst and anxiety that accompany most Clippers games, traveling hand in hand.

Around here, almost no lead seems completely safe, not a 19-point lead early in the fourth quarter (Tuesday's collapse against the Cavaliers), and not even an 11-point lead with 5:24 left against the Nets.

New Jersey's Vince Carter was doing a nearly picture-perfect imitation of LeBron James, who shredded the Clippers' psyche on Tuesday.

Carter, who finished with 41 points, hit five three-pointers, the final one coming with 12.7 seconds left to put New Jersey ahead, 105-102. Davis made two free throws, then the Nets' Jarvis Hayes missed two.

Then Novak, the three-point specialist, managed to have the last word on the topic. In a rarity, the Clippers didn't botch a final play in the final seconds, getting the ball in the responsible hands of rookie Eric Gordon, who drove into the paint and then kicked it out to Davis.

Davis didn't even hesitate, finding Novak in the corner.

"It felt good, but especially on one of those shots, you never know because your nerves are so high you never know exactly what you're feeling," Novak said. "You've got to see it go in to know for sure."

Davis had 20 points and 10 assists, Al Thornton had 20 points and eight rebounds, and Gordon added 17 points.

Said Gordon: "We wanted this one really badly because we did not play well [Saturday in Denver]. We definitely needed this win. I just wanted to make better decisions toward the end of the game. Once I drove, I saw all five of their guys collapse to the middle and kicked it to Baron, and Baron made the best play."

The way Novak was stroking the ball all night and hitting the three, it seemed nearly inevitable he would hit nothing but net.

"I just know he's gonna knock it down when he's that wide open," Gordon said. "I have no doubt he's going to make that shot."

Etc.

The Clippers were without Zach Randolph against the Nets. Randolph has been back in Indiana for his father's funeral, and was expected to return in time to play against New Jersey. But he exchanged a series of text messages with Clippers Coach Mike Dunleavy and asked if he could delay his return to Los Angeles.

"He was saying it was kind of rough, burying his dad yesterday, and he wanted to know if he could come back later today and stay with his family a little bit," Dunleavy said. "Obviously we understand. That's a tough one."

New Jersey's playoff push took a big hit not just with the defeat but also with the loss of All-Star point guard Devin Harris, who was injured early in the third quarter.

Harris, who was driving to the basket for a layup, suffered a sprained left shoulder when he went up and got smacked by Camby's arm. He went down and had to leave the game, immediately going to the locker room. Officials said X-rays were negative. Harris had 13 points in 23-plus minutes.

--

lisa.dillman@latimes.com

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