NEW YORK, N.Y. – Chris Paul preserved the big lead that Jamal Crawford helped build, then they both looked elsewhere for the key to this Clippers victory.
“I think the game ball goes to Grant Hill,” Paul said.
Hill led the defensive effort that limited Carmelo Anthony to one basket in the fourth quarter, and Los Angeles pulled away for a 102-88 victory over the New York Knicks on Sunday.
Anthony scored 42 points in his fifth 40-point game of the season, but took only two shots in the final period while defended by the 40-year-old Hill, who didn’t even play in the first half but was on the floor for the final 15:21.
“I think that Grant Hill sitting on the bench the whole time, he came in and provided a great presence out there on Melo. I don’t think we win that game without him,” Crawford said.
Paul scored 25 points in his second game back from injury and Crawford, a former Knicks guard, had 27. Blake Griffin finished with 17 points and 12 rebounds for the Clippers, who bounced back from a 22-point loss in Miami on Friday to win for just the fourth time in 12 games. They finish off their eight-game Grammys road trip Monday in Philadelphia.
“Jamal, Chris, Blake, I mean everybody, it was a team effort. Everybody stepped up at some point,” coach Vinny Del Negro said.
Raymond Felton scored 20 points for the Knicks, who lost for the second time in eight games and wrap up their successful first half Wednesday against Toronto. J.R. Smith was only 1 for 9 from the field, getting badly outplayed by Crawford in a matchup of top NBA reserves.
Paul added seven assists and six rebounds after being held to a season-low three points Friday in Miami. He had missed nine straight and 12 of the previous 14 games with a bruised right kneecap, and an excellent Clippers season hit a rocky patch without him.
Paul scored 16 points in the first half, then had five in a row down the stretch to hold off the Knicks comeback attempt.
Anthony had four points in the final period after he had scored 18 in the third. He said the Clippers made a defensive adjustment, changing their pick-and-roll coverage and sending another defender at him.
“There’s four other guys on the basketball court, we’ve just got to make plays and we’ve been doing that all season long,” Anthony said. “Tonight, today we didn’t make plays in the fourth quarter and we didn’t win the game.”
The Clippers are finally getting healthier, with Chauncey Billups also rejoining the lineup Friday, though Del Negro said they still had to balance watching players’ minutes to keep the long-term in mind against trying to win the game.
Having one of the NBA’s best benches helps. He didn’t even have Paul or Griffin in the game, leaving it to Crawford, the leading candidate for the NBA’s sixth man award, and Eric Bledsoe to help Los Angeles open a decisive lead in the fourth quarter.
Hill came on in the third quarter after Caron Butler was lost to a sore lower back and nobody else was having any success against Anthony, and made him work to even get the ball where he wanted it.
“I’ve battled against him. He’s a great player,” Hill said. “I have as much respect for him. He’s one of my favourite players to watch but you try to do things to make it difficult. You’ve to have selective memory because when he hits a shot, you’ve just got to be able to move on to the next play. He’s a great player.”
Bledsoe made all six shots and finished with 13 points as the Clippers’ bench outscored the Knicks’ 48-15.
“Things happen, man. Just sometimes it’s one of those nights when shots don’t fall,” Felton said. “Our bench has been great for us all year, and sometimes the ball don’t just go in the basket for you and it was one of those days.”
The Clippers scored the final five points of the first quarter for a 22-17 lead, then opened the second with eight in a row to go up 30-17 on a pair of free throws by Matt Barnes. They led 52-44 at halftime.
Anthony got on one of his blistering streaks in the third, scoring 11 points in under 4 1/2 minutes, including a 3-pointer that gave the Knicks a 61-60 lead. It went back and forth from there until he capped his 18-point period with a 3-pointer with 28 seconds remaining that cut the Clippers’ edge to 71-70 heading to the fourth.
But after Amare Stoudemire’s three-point play to open the quarter, the Clippers scored 15 of the next 19 points, taking an 86-77 lead on Crawford’s basket with about 7 minutes left.
The Knicks fell behind by 12 later in the period before getting within six with under 3 minutes left. Paul then scored five straight points to push it back to 11 and put it away.
The Knicks were forced to spend an extra night in Minnesota after Friday’s victory because of the snow storm that pounded the Northeast, before getting home Saturday afternoon. The Clippers were already scheduled to remain in Miami on Friday and practice there Saturday before travelling to New York.
NOTES: Knicks coach Mike Woodson said he can never promise a player he won’t be traded, but has been showing Iman Shumpert “some love” with the second-year guard’s name linked to reports of a possible trade to Phoenix. Woodson said the second-year guard has been on a roller coaster since returning from knee surgery, but said he believes Shumpert remains a key player for the Knicks. He said even his daughter, who like Shumpert went to Georgia Tech, called Woodson to ask about if the Knicks were really going to deal. “Iman’s going to be right here with me,” Woodson said he told her. … The NBA’s three oldest active players were at Madison Square Garden: the Knicks’ Kurt Thomas, who turned 40 in October, Hill (a day younger) and the Knicks’ Jason Kidd (who turns 40 next month).