Portland forward Marcus Camby, right, knocks the ball away from Clippers… (Bret Hartman / Associated…)
There were moments when the Clippers were active on defense, when they looked as if the work they had put in after two poor outings was paying off.
Then there were moments when the Clippers got "fatigued" on defense, Coach Vinny Del Negro said, when they weren't as sharp and the Portland Trail Blazers began to overwhelm them.
But the Clippers dug in when the game hung in the balance, when they refused to let a 17-point lead slip away, and when they saw Chris Paul take control on offense and defense in helping them to a 93-88 victory over Portland on Sunday night at Staples Center.
Paul had 17 points on eight-for-15 shooting, which included a leaning double-pump three-pointer that banked off the backboard to beat the 24-second clock late in the fourth quarter.
He also had seven assists and two steals.
"Like I've been saying all along, we want to win at the same time we're learning to play with each other," Paul said. "It's always better to learn each other and win rather than lose."
The Clippers had lost their last two games, one in which San Antonio shot 56.3% from the field and the other in which Chicago shot 50%.
They had given up more than 100 points in both losses.
The Clippers limited the Trail Blazers to 42.3% shooting for the game.
But in the fourth quarter, Portland went to work, scoring 36 points and making 63.2% (12 of 19) of their shots.
Jamal Crawford came off the bench to score 13 of his 23 points in the fourth and Nicolas Batum had 11 of his 15 points in the fourth.
After LaMarcus Aldridge scored to pull the Trail Blazers to within 90-88, the Clippers stood firm.
The Clippers' defense was being tested again, but they refused to fold.
"With two not-so-solid defensive games, it's good to come out and play like this," said Blake Griffin, who led the Clippers with 20 points and 10 rebounds. "Still, we're figuring each other out and we can be even better."
Paul put the game away using a cross-over dribble that got him by Aldridge, then scoring on a floater off the backboard over the 6-11 forward for a 92-88 lead.
Paul then finished the game by digging in on defense, by stripping the ball away from Crawford and forcing a jump ball with 4.3 seconds left.
The 6-foot Paul then won the jump ball over the 6-5 Crawford, tipping the ball to Mo Williams, who made one of two free throws for the final margin.
"Big fella, I'm going to do the jump balls from now on," Paul said to a smiling Clippers center DeAndre Jordan. "You've lost three of them this season."
The Clippers held Portland to 17 points in the first, 19 in the second and 16 in the third. It almost got away in the fourth, but they regained their defensive poise just in time.
"We gave up too many points in the fourth," Del Negro said. "But I thought our guys gutted it out real well and made some plays down the stretch."