WASHINGTON — Chris Paul called it a “must-win.” Blake Griffin deemed it a “Game 7,” which, technically, it was.
Like many weary teams before them, the Los Angeles Clippers could have mentally checked out when faced with the final game of a long road trip. Instead, they shared the ball impeccably and wrapped up a tougher-than-it-should’ve-been East Coast swing Saturday night with a 113-97 win over the Washington Wizards.
“We wanted to try to turn this from an OK trip into a good trip,” Paul said. “There was a lot of factors. It’s a long flight back home, and we’ve got a lot of sore losers on this team.”
Los Angeles never trailed and had assists on 27 of 39 field goals, including 16 of 21 in the first half. Paul finished with 38 points and 12 assists, and the Clippers shot 56 percent to conclude a 4-3 journey that included games against six Eastern Conference teams, leaving them 6-6 on the season against the pedestrian East and 10-3 against the mighty West.
“This was important to close out,” Griffin said. “We kind of looked at it as like a Game 7 for us, being on the road. Game 7, got to win. I thought we responded well.”
Griffin had 16 points and nine rebounds and was particularly vocal, keeping his teammates focused on the game at hand. The Clippers, on the road since Dec. 2, had already logged more than 6,000 miles on the trip.
“Blake Griffin, every timeout, kept saying, ‘No letup. We’re the tired team, let’s not think about it. Let’s keep playing,'” coach Doc Rivers said.
Paul was also at the forefront of the don’t-let-up agenda. Sure, he was exaggerating when he called this a must-win in the wake of Thursday’s loss at Brooklyn, but sometimes that’s what it takes.
“We’re going to make him say that every night,” Rivers joked.
Paul went 11 for 14 from the field and made all 11 of his free throws. Jamal Crawford played the fifth man instead of the sixth man, making his first start since April 9, 2012, and finished with 17 points.
Jared Dudley, who apologized to fans on Twitter after a 1-for-7 shooting performance against Brooklyn, found his game and carried the Clippers early, going 4 for 5 in the first quarter and finishing with 16 points.
“He’s a great shooter,” Rivers said. “It’s not going away forever. It just went away for a little while, and we wanted it to come back as soon as possible.”
John Wall had 24 points and 12 assists for the Wizards, who have lost four straight since reaching .500 for the first time since 2009.
The outcome appeared predetermined when coach Randy Wittman announced before the game that Nene would sit out again because of a foot injury. The Wizards have lost seven in a row when Nene doesn’t play and are 3-24 without the Brazilian forward since the beginning of last season.
But even Nene probably wouldn’t have made much of a difference against the efficient Clippers.
“You could see there’s a difference between the teams, the way they talk to each other, the way they communicate, just basically the rule of winning,” Washington center Marcin Gortat said.
Gortat, who went 3 for 10 from the field, also stirred the pot by saying the Wizards aren’t using him the right way.
“I don’t like the position I play,” Gortat said. “I’m constantly drifting more and more away from the basket and quite honestly, that’s not my game. … I just think I’ve got to talk to Coach and just clear things up.”
The Clippers were always in control, but a 6-0 run consisting of nothing but dunks — one by Griffin, two by DeAndre Jordan — pushed the lead to 19 in the third quarter and pretty much settled the matter. The Wizards trailed by double digits for the entire second half.
“They got everything they wanted,” Washington swingman Trevor Ariza said. “We didn’t get any stops.”
NOTES: Crawford started ahead of Willie Green because Rivers wanted to see how Green played with Darren Collison on the second unit. Rivers isn’t sure if he’ll stick with that plan. … Washington’s Kevin Seraphin scored a season-high 16 points.
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