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LOS ANGELES — How quick is J.J. Redick on the draw? He needed barely more than a second to catch, turn, shoot and bury the Blazers at the buzzer.
And how quick-thinking is Chris Paul? He didn’t hesitate to toss the game-winning assist to Redick through Mason Plumlee’s legs, nutmeg-style, to secure the 96–94 victory at Staples Center on Thursday.
Redick’s game-winning jumper came after a nip-and-tuck endgame that saw Damian Lillard answer a 7–0 Clippers run with an and-one jumper and a go-ahead three-pointer in the final minute.
But Portland simply couldn’t execute on its final possession. With 11 seconds left, the Blazers’ inbound play stalled, eventually leading to a wild Moe Harkless runner that missed. The Clippers recovered the defensive rebound and called timeout with 1.1 seconds left.
Chris Paul then inbounded from the right sideline, waiting for Redick to come off a DeAndre Jordan pick near the right angle before finding his backcourt partner with the pass he sent through the legs of the 6' 11" Mason Plumlee.
“Plumlee started jumping and I really couldn’t see J.J.,” Paul said. “He jumped high enough to where I could bounce pass it through his legs. It may have been the first [nutmeg game-winner of my career]. It may have been the first.”
Clippers coach Doc Rivers marveled at Paul’s ingenuity afterward.
“I don’t know how he got it to him, I really don’t,” Rivers said. “Obviously he threw it between the legs. That just tells you who Chris Paul is.”
Redick, who entered Sunday shooting a league-best 48% on threes, drained the jumper from just inside the arc and over C.J. McCollum for the win.
“He’s one of the best shooters in the league,” Blazers coach Terry Stotts said. “He’s probably the best in the league at moving without the ball. It’s a challenge every time you guard him.”
Afterward, Redick explained that he “changed the angle” on his off-ball run in response to Portland’s defensive coverage, adding that he was “worried” initially Paul wouldn’t be able to find him with the inbounds pass.
“I probably shouldn’t have worried,” Redick said. “Chris doesn’t panic and he made a hell of a pass.”
The shot ended a three-game losing streak for the Clippers, who have been without injured All-Star forward Blake Griffin since Christmas. March has been particularly bumpy: Rivers’s team has suffered a series of double-digit defeats to contenders like the Warriors, Spurs, Cavaliers and Thunder.
Although the Clippers aren’t exactly in a tight playoff chase, the victory did help solidify their positioning. L.A. now holds a 3 1/2 game lead over No. 5 Memphis. What’s more, the victory pushed No. 6 Portland 5 1/2 games behind Memphis with just nine to play.
The Clippers’ win Thursday made it more unlikely the Blazers will be able to leapfrog the injury-ravaged Grizzlies, thereby setting up a first-round series between L.A. and Portland.
“We don’t want to be limping into the playoffs,” Redick said. “We want to be playing well. Last year we were 14–2 going into the playoffs in our last 16. I don’t necessarily believe in momentum, but I do believe in rhythm and confidence, those things are important, and I believe in having the right spirit.”
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Redick finished with 11 points (on 5-of-11 shooting) and four rebounds. Paul posted a game-high 25 points (on 8-of-15 shooting), seven assists and five rebounds.
Lillard led the Blazers with 18 points but struggled through a poor shooting night, hitting just 4-of-16 from the field. McCollum added 17 points (on 6-of-12 shooting) and six assists in the loss.
The Clippers improved to 44–27. The Blazers fell to 37–36.