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Short-handed Clippers grind out win over Rockets

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HOUSTON — The moment called for a modest amount of celebration, for the Los Angeles Clippers to laud their maturity and the collective strides they made during their lengthy, arduous process of roster cohesion.

Hamstrung by the loss of All-Star forward Blake Griffin and facing a 15-point deficit, the Clippers did not blink. Instead they rode guard Chris Paul and center DeAndre Jordan to a 118-107 victory and season series sweep of the Houston Rockets on Saturday night at the Toyota Center.

The Clippers (52-22) lost Griffin to injury midway through the first quarter yet managed to extend their lead over the Rockets (49-23) in the race for the third seed in the Western Conference playoff picture. That they did so largely without Griffin is a testament to their tenacity and their toughness, characteristics that were previously non-existent.

“A collective focus on being mentally tough has got us a long way this year,” Clippers forward Matt Barnes said.

The Rockets fell two games behind the Clippers with the loss and had their season-best 11-game home-court winning streak come to an end.

Paul paired 30 points with 12 assists (and only one turnover) while Jordan added 20 points and 12 rebounds. Paul (three steals) and Jordan (six blocks) stood out defensively as well while Barnes added 15 points and 10 rebounds.

Clippers guard Jamal Crawford scored 22 points off the bench, including an early burst that opened the fourth quarter and put the Clippers in firm control. Los Angeles improved to 4-0 against Houston this season.

Guard James Harden had 32 points and six assists — all in the first quarter before the Rockets’ sublime ball movement ceased. Forward Chandler Parsons totaled 28 points and nine rebounds. Omer Asik, subbing for injured All-Star center Dwight Howard, had 12 points and 11 boards while rookie guard Isaiah Canaan scored a career-high 14.

The five remaining Rockets who participated shot a combined 6-for-24.

“We’ve got to do a much better job when they switch (defensively),” Parsons said. “We knew they were going to do that going into the game and when they switch sometimes it’s best to get off the ball and space the floor and make them help instead of just dribbling the ball.”

Paul delivered a virtuoso performance in the final seven-plus minutes of the first half, starting with a 3-pointer with 7:14 remaining in the second quarter that cut what was once a 15-point deficit to 47-40.

Paul added another 3 just over a minute later to ignite an 11-0 run that pushed the Clippers to a 51-49 lead. He scored seven points during that run and closed the half with 19 points, tallying 17 in the second period.

“I don’t think I’ve ever been on a team like this where guys will come to the arena just ready,” Paul said. “It’s happened all season long. Nobody is sitting not expecting to play. Guys know their number might be called.”

The Clippers needed those heroics after Griffin departed with back spasms at 5:48 mark of the first. Houston responded with a surge to a 33-23 lead by the close of the quarter, an advantage it stretched to 40-25 when forward Francisco Garcia hit a trey with 10:36 left in the half.

Houston maintained that 15-point cushion until Crawford nailed a 3 with 9:30 left in the second quarter to key the rally. When Crawford reeled off eight consecutive points to stretch the lead to 96-85 early in the fourth, the Rockets found themselves in a frustratingly similar spot.

“We played very out of character and guys got flustered I guess,” Rockets coach Kevin McHale said. “We did not play well. Give them credit; they’ve had our number. We’ve had a hard time with those guys this year.”

NOTES: Clippers F Danny Granger returned to Los Angeles and will miss the remainder of this five-game trip because of a strained left hamstring that, by the tenor of Clippers coach Doc Rivers, sounds quite serious. “He was up-and-down, but you could just feel like he was starting to get his legs under him,” Rivers said of Granger. “And now to have this and go home, and who knows when he’ll be back. … With the playoffs coming, it just makes it that much tougher.” … With Rockets G Patrick Beverley (right knee) sidelined indefinitely and Houston C Dwight Howard (left ankle) day to day, the Rockets reshuffled their starting lineup to include Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik, fixtures from last season. “I anticipate Omer going out there rebounding, really anchoring the defense and doing all those things,” Rockets coach Kevin McHale said. “And I anticipate Jeremy pushing the pace, attacking and playing like he does.” … Beverley will consult with Dr. James Andrews on Monday to learn the extent of his meniscus tear. Beverley speculated that he could be out as little as 10 days or as many as four weeks.