SALT LAKE CITY — The Clippers were forced to earn this victory.
They had to dig down in a way that hasn't been needed all season to climb out of a 19-point hole in the third quarter. They had to withstand all the Utah Jazz threw at them and their own inadequacies on defense to preserve their franchise-record winning streak.
The Clippers extended their NBA-best streak to 16 consecutive wins by overcoming the Jazz, 116-114, at Energy Solutions Arena on Friday night, as Randy Foye missed a potential game-winning three-pointer as time expired.
The Clippers won this game because Chris Paul scored nine of his 29 points (and made seven of eight free throws) in the fourth quarter and because he sealed the game with two free throws for the final margin with 3.4 seconds left.
And Paul needed all of his heroics because in the closing seconds he made only one of two free throws for a 114-112 lead, leaving the door open for the Jazz.
The Clippers have the longest winning streak in the NBA since the Boston Celtics won 19 straight during the 2008-09 season because Matt Barnes played good defense on Foye (28 points) and forced him to throw up an off-balanced final shot of the game.
“This might be the most fun one of the streak so far,” Paul said. “Just because of the intensity of it. It was emotional. Guys really had to fight for it, and we had to stick together.
“We were down 19 and we could have come up with any excuse in the book. It's a back-to-back. We have won enough in a row. But we fought, and we showed a lot of grit.”
The Clippers extended their franchise-best seven-game winning streak on the road because Blake Griffin (22 points, 13 rebounds) and DeAndre Jordan (16 points, 10 rebounds), both came up big in the fourth quarter.
Jordan had two three-point plays in the fourth quarter, finishing each play by making the free throws.
Griffin also had a three-point play in the fourth, also finishing the play by making his free throw.
“That was huge for us to finish through contact and go up there and knock down the free throws,” Jordan said. “That's big for us.”
Paul was upset because he had made just one of two free throws with 17.1 seconds left, leaving it at 114-112.
But when Jazz center Al Jefferson tried to double-team Paul 20 feet away from the basket and then fouled the Clippers' point guard, Paul was excited to finish the deal with 3.4 seconds left.
“I couldn't wait to get to the line,” said Paul, who was 13 for 14 overall from the free-throw line. “I was mad at myself for missing the last one. I couldn't wait to get to the line to redeem myself.”
The Clippers were playing on back-to-back nights and admittedly were tired. But they still got their 15th win this month — the streak started in November.
If the Clippers defeat the Jazz in a rematch Sunday at Staples Center, the Clippers will join the 1995-96 San Antonio Spurs and 1971-72 Lakers as just the third team in NBA history to produce a 16-0 month.
“This one was great for us because we kind of needed a challenge, something to prove not only to everybody else but ourselves that even we could still win close games like this,” Griffin said. “It shows that we can win a game when we're down 19 in the third.”