INDIANAPOLIS (AP) Doc Rivers believes the Los Angeles Clippers have all the components to make a title run.
They can score from inside or outside and they can rebound. The missing piece is consistent defense - and that nearly cost them on Wednesday night.
The Clippers blew a 15-point, first-half lead and nearly gave away a 20-point lead in the final 14 minutes before hanging on for their ninth straight win - 103-96 over the struggling Indiana Pacers.
''Defend. That's how we fix it,'' Coach Rivers said when asked to explain what happened. ''That's not that hard. They can do it and they've done it. So, they've shown they can do it, and they will do it.''
Los Angeles (16-5) won in typical fashion.
Jamal Crawford scored 18 points, including a critical 20-foot, off-balance jumper with 1:50 to go that made it a two-possession game.
Blake Griffin had 17 points, including a key free throw during the final stretch, and added 10 rebounds and five assists. DeAndre Jordan finished with 12 points and a season high 19 rebounds, and Chris Paul had eight points and 15 assists - one short of the season high he established Saturday.
But the short-handed Pacers (7-15) simply refused to let the Clippers pull away. C.J. Miles scored a season high 30 points, Lavoy Allen had 14 points and 13 rebounds, and Luis Scola had 12 points and 14 rebounds.
It wasn't quite enough to pull of the comeback.
While Rivers challenged his backups to protect leads better, Pacers coach Frank Vogel was contemplating how to get more out of his starters and possible lineup changes.
''Something's got to change for us to get off to better starts,'' Vogel said. ''That group is struggling. It's not clicking.''
The discrepancy was so clear-cut Wednesday that Vogel didn't even bother putting his starters in for the stretch run.
After the backups helped Indiana rally from a 15-point first-quarter deficit to take a 45-44 lead, the starters got outscored 10-4 in the final minutes of the first half.
Roy Hibbert's 19-foot jumper to start the second half cut the deficit to 54-51, but the Clippers answered with a 16-5 run to take a 14-point lead. Jordan Farmar's 3-pointer with 1:52 left in the third quarter made it 82-62.
But the Pacers' second unit started the fourth quarter on a 12-4 spurt, closed to within five, fell behind 95-87 with 3:42 to play and then made one more rally. Scola's layup with 3:09 got the Pacers within three, and Allen's 20-foot jumper with 2:00 to go made it 98-96.
Crawford then answered with the jumper, and the Pacers never scored again.
''The key was that we didn't get rattled,'' Paul said. ''We don't want to lose leads of 15 or 20 points, but in an 82-game season, it's going to happen. The important thing is we still got the win.''
Clippers: Los Angeles came in leading the NBA in 3-point shooting at 38.5 percent. However, they were just 4 of 15 from beyond the arc at halftime and finished 7 of 24 (29.2 percent) for the game.
Pacers: What's wrong with the Pacers? Donald Sloan, once the starting point guard, didn't play against the Clippers. Hibbert and power forward David West, who recently returned from injuries, were ineffective. And the Pacers still don't have starting guard George Hill back from a knee injury.
Indiana visits Toronto on Friday.
Los Angeles visits Washington on Friday.
SLOW STARTS: Indiana has been one of the NBA's worst first-quarter teams this season. On Wednesday, the Pacers had two slow starts - one in each half. Indiana was outscored 19-7 in the first 5:12 of the game and 16-7 over the first 5:03 of the third quarter.
STYLE POINTS: The key to the Clippers is scoring 100 points. They are now 15-1 when scoring at least 100, and just 1-4 when they do not.