Clippers outmuscle Wolves in 96-90 victory
By JON KRAWCZYNSKI
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) The Los Angeles Clippers have adopted a big, bad bully mentality to muscle their way toward the top of the Western Conference.
When Greg Stiemsma and the Minnesota Timberwolves tried to stand their ground, the Clippers got mad, and then they got rolling.
Caron Butler had 19 points and Jamal Crawford scored 17 for the Clippers, who were challenged in the second quarter during two run-ins with Stiemsma. Matt Barnes was ejected after the first one and Grant Hill was floored during the second. But the Clippers got physical and handed the Wolves their fifth straight loss.
"We never want to come in and lay down and have that be how we get beat," Griffin said. "We came together after that second little scuffle and really said, `OK, we've got to buckle down and do a better job.' We fought back."
Nikola Pekovic had 17 points and 12 rebounds for the Timberwolves, who had coach Rick Adelman on the sideline for the first time since Jan. 5. Adelman missed the previous 11 games while his wife sought treatment for seizures.
"Teams are playing aggressive and they want to win," said Ricky Rubio, who had nine points and four assists. "We have to come back and don't step back and try to push them."
The Wolves went 2-9 in Adelman's absence. But the downtrodden team played with much more confidence with their leader back on the bench.
J.J. Barea and Alexey Shved led an 8-2 burst that tied the game and Andrei Kirilenko's transition layup gave Minnesota an 86-84 lead with four minutes to go.
But the Clippers got a big 3-pointer from Butler and knocked the smaller Wolves to the court for several loose balls. Griffin muscled home a three-point play with 30 seconds to go to close the game out.
Barea had 14 points and Shved 12.
The Clippers entered the game having lost four of their last five and looking a little disjointed without star point guard Chris Paul, who is out with a knee injury.
Griffin has elevated his game in Paul's absence, entering the night averaging 23.2 points, 9.0 rebounds and a staggering 6.8 assists in the last five games, picking up some of the playmaking slack left for arguably the game's best point guard.
They will get little sympathy from the injury-ravaged Timberwolves. Minnesota got Pekovic and Shved back from five-game absences, giving them 12 players on the bench for the first time since Dec. 26. They're still missing Kevin Love (broken hand), Chase Budinger (knee) and Brandon Roy (knee).
The Clippers looked a little groggy as they opened an eight-game road trip. They picked up a couple of defensive 3-second violations and a bevy of technical fouls to fall behind by as many 11 points in the second quarter. Barnes got things started in the second quarter when he tried to shove his way through a screen set by Stiemsma, then threw a forearm to Stiemsma's throat.
"He hit me with a couple of dirty picks early on and I told him to watch it, then he laughed and he hit me with another one," Barnes said. "I kind of lost my control, which I apologized to the team for. There's no excuse for that, but luckily it sparked the team."
Officials reviewed the play and gave Barnes a flagrant foul-2, which brings an automatic ejection.
"He kind of ran through me on the first one, so I figured he'd do the same on the second one," Stiemsma said. "I didn't know he was going to take it that far. That's what I'm out there to do, set screens and be physical and some guys just take it over the top."
Moments later, Stiemsma flattened Hill when he went up for a rebound under the basket. Butler and Ronny Turiaf forcefully confronted Stiemsma, drawing technical fouls of their own. J.J. Barea hit both free throws for a 37-28 lead.
Stiemsma said he was hit in the face on the play and didn't know Hill was there when he pushed back.
"I wasn't retaliating," Stiemsma said. "I just felt a hit to the face and he just went to the floor."
The outburst did seem to ignite the Clippers, who went on a 37-15 surge over the next 11 minutes to take control. Griffin flexed his muscle down low, getting Derrick Williams to pick up five fouls in 13 minutes while he attacked the offensive glass.
"We've got a bunch of nice guys, but I think we have to be a little tougher," Barea said. "We have to stop being too nice. They turned it up. I think it helped them. That was the game right there."
NOTES: It was Barnes' second ejection of the season and seventh of his career. He entered the game tied for the league lead in technical fouls with nine. ... The 6-foot-1 Bledsoe blocked the 6-11 Pekovic's layup in transition in the third quarter. ... Shved was named to the BBVA Rising Stars Challenge that will take place during All-Star weekend in Houston. The rookie entered the game averaging 10.7 points and 4.6 assists this season.
Updated January 30, 2013