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Paul Scores 23 To Lead Clippers Past Rockets

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LOS ANGELES (AP) — Chris Paul scored 12 of his 23 points in the final 2:42, including a go-ahead layup with 24.6 seconds left, leading the Los Angeles Clippers to a 95-91 victory over the Houston Rockets on Saturday.

Blake Griffin had 18 points and eight rebounds before fouling out with 4.9 seconds remaining. Randy Foye, filling in at shooting guard for the injured Chauncey Billups, added 15 points in what could be his last start because of the acquisition of Nick Young on Thursday from Washington.

Courtney Lee led Houston with a season-high 25 points despite a strained tendon in the middle finger of his left hand. Chase Budinger added 19 points, and Goran Dragic had 14 assists and 11 points.

The victory put the Clippers within 2 1/2 games of the idle Lakers in the race for the Pacific Division lead.

With his team down six points after Patrick Patterson’s baseline hook shot with 2:57 to play, Paul hit a 16-footer and made four free throws to tie the score at 87.

Patterson, who finished with 14 points off the bench, hit two foul shots before Paul answered with a short jumper in the lane.

Patterson then missed a 14-footer from the left baseline, and Paul’s layup put the Clippers ahead to stay at 91-89.

The All-Star point guard then stole the ball from Dragic on the Rockets’ next possession and Foye made two free throws at the other end. Budinger and Lee both missed 3-point shots in the final 8 seconds.

Paul sealed the win with a pair from the line with 3.6 seconds to go.

Trailing by as many as 14 points in the second quarter, Los Angeles tied the score at 56 with a 17-5 run capped by Paul’s short jumper with 5:52 left in the third. The Clippers held a 14-0 advantage in second-chance points until Budinger got an offensive rebound of Lee’s missed 3-point shot, and Dragic made two free throws following a shooting foul by DeAndre Jordan with 4:28 left in the quarter.

Lee made perhaps the defensive play of the game with a chase down of Paul, forcing him to miss a breakaway layup with 36.7 seconds left in the third and the score tied at 66 after Paul intercepted a pass by Dragic at the other end.

But Paul assisted on a 3-pointer by Mo Williams with 4 seconds on the clock, giving the Clippers a 69-66 lead heading into the fourth.

Budinger, who came in averaging 8.4 points over his first 36 games, helped lead Houston to a 47-39 halftime lead with 13 in his eighth start of the season.

Lee also had 13 points in the half, 11 of them during a 19-4 run that turned a nine-point deficit into a 23-17 lead. He capped the rally with a free throw after Los Angeles coach Vinny Del Negro was assessed a technical foul with 29.4 seconds left in the first quarter.

The Clippers missed seven shots from 19 feet or longer during that stretch, including 3-point attempts by Foye, Williams, Caron Butler and Bobby Simmons.

Neither of the players Houston acquired at the trade deadline were in uniform. Marcus Camby was on the inactive list because the other players he was traded to Portland for — Jonny Flynn and Hasheem Thabeet — hadn’t joined the Trail Blazers yet.

The Rockets are expected to buy out the $3.4 million player option for next season that is remaining on Derek Fisher’s contract with the Lakers. Fisher played in 537 consecutive games prior to the trade.

“He’s not here. If he was here he’d play,” coach Kevin McHale told reporters before the game. “I haven’t seen him yet. “I have not talked to him.”

Notes: Billups returned to Staples Center for the first time since undergoing season-ending surgery on Feb. 15 to have his torn Achilles tendon repaired. “It’s definitely bittersweet,” Billups said. “I would just like to be walking in and putting my jersey on, of course, going out there and fighting with the guys. Obviously, I can’t do that. But on the flip side, it’s just really good to see the guys and see them just as happy to see me as I am to see them. I’m just happy to be back in the loop.” … Young, whom the Clippers obtained Thursday from Washington in a three-way trade with Denver, had an introductory pregame news conference. “It’s a great feeling, coming back to family and playing for a great team,” said the former USC star, who was born in Los Angeles. “You can’t wish for nothing better than that. It’s a dream come true. The organization wanted me and they traded for me, so I feel like I’m a part of this team already. It’s a great fit. Playing in the backcourt with Chris Paul and alongside players like Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan, it’s a great opportunity and something I wanted.”

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