LOS ANGELES (AP) — Blake Griffin had one of those rare nights when his free throw percentage for the game was actually higher than his field goal percentage.
The three-time All-Star made a pair of clutch foul shots in the final 2 minutes, finishing 7 for 10 from the line and partially atoning for his dreadful 5-for-18 performance as the Clippers held off the pesky Washington Wizards 94-87 on Saturday night.
Griffin has converted 23 of his last 29 from the line to improve his season percentage from 61.9 to 64.2.
"I'm just putting in the work every day and trying to turn that into something that's a strength of mine and not something that can be a liability," Griffin said. "It's going to be huge for us, especially down the stretch and in the playoffs. So if I can shoot better from the free throw line, that will take a little pressure off the rest of the team."
Chris Paul, the NBA player of the month for December, also had a poor-shooting game in his return to the Los Angeles lineup after missing three games because of a bruised right kneecap. He missed 10 of 16 shots, but still managed 22 points and 11 assists and helped seal the victory with seven points in the final 3:14. The Clippers won despite shooting a season-low 36.6 percent from the field.
"I was 6 for 16 and Blake was 5 for 18. That's not going to happen on most nights," Paul said. "The biggest thing is that we had 93 shot attempts and they had 77. That's how we won the game — with offensive rebounding. It was cool to be back. I feel like it's been the longest week, sitting out three games. But I still need to get my timing back and get it through my head that I can play."
The surging Clips have won an astonishing 24 of their last 27 overall and are within a half-game of idle Oklahoma City for the NBA's best record, a full game ahead of San Antonio. The top teams in the Western Conference will go head-to-head on Tuesday night at Los Angeles in a rematch of their overtime battle on Nov. 21, when the Thunder beat the Clippers 117-111 in Griffin's hometown.
Just hours after the NHL's Los Angeles Kings raised their first Stanley Cup banner to the Staples Center rafters and received their championship rings as a prelude to their lockout-delayed season opener, the Clippers reached the midway mark of their spectacular season and continued to tantalize their long-suffering fans with hopes of an NBA Finals appearance in June. The farthest the franchise has gotten in its 43-year history was the conference semifinals, in 2006 and again last season.
When asked if having a brand new championship banner hanging almost directly over the Clippers' bench will be inspiring or uncomfortable, coach Vinny Del Negro said: "It won't be uncomfortable. There's a lot of banners up in this building (11 by the Lakers), and we're just trying to make our own path right now and trying to achieve the most success we can with this group. The hanging of banners is very difficult, as everybody knows, but we're just trying to achieve what we can and put ourselves in a position to compete at the highest level and see where it takes us.
"I know some of the people in the Kings organization and I know it's an exciting time for them," Del Negro added. "They earned it. I had a chance to look at their ring today, and it's a beautiful ring. I'm happy for their success and for the city. That's what it's all about."
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