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Clippers down Hawks with late flourish

By Mark Lamport-Stokes

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - With their reserve players sparking play in the final quarter, the Los Angeles Clippers pulled away from the pesky Atlanta Hawks to end a tightly contested game with a flourish and an 89-76 win on Sunday.

Back-up guard Eric Bledsoe contributed 12 points, Jamal Crawford 11 and Matt Barnes 10 as the Clippers outscored the Hawks 24-16 in the fourth period to claim their third consecutive victory.

Twice All-Star Blake Griffin scored a game-high 16 points and Chris Paul weighed in with 15 points and eight assists for Los Angeles but they were indebted to their bench unit after the team shot only 45.7 percent from the field in the first half.

"It is unbelievable how they come into games and put the pressure on teams and increase the lead," forward Griffin told reporters while paying tribute to the Clippers' reserves.

"A lot of these guys could be starting on any team in the NBA. I don't like to call them the second team because there is not much of a drop-off when they come into the game.

"We are all on the same level, we are all one team," added Griffin, who was one of six Clippers in double figures.

Crawford, the 2010 Sixth Man of the Year when he was playing for Atlanta, was equally proud of his bench team mates.

"There's a lot of confidence from our coaching staff and our starters," he said. "We believe in our bench. We think our bench is better than a lot of starting units.

"When we go out there, we try to do a job collectively. Everyone understands their role and we just try to be successful."

IMPROVING CLIPPERS

Forward Josh Smith led Atlanta with 13 points and both Al Horford and Lou Williams added 11 as the Hawks slipped to 2-3 for the season. The Clippers improved to 5-2.

"That was the first time that happened this year, that we had really a let-down in the fourth (quarter)," said a subdued Horford. "They made a run and we didn't really handle it as well as we could have.

"Give them credit, they took over the game. We need to be a little smarter with the ball."

Playing in front of a sellout crowd of 19,060, the Clippers made an erratic start with a rash of turnovers and poor shooting from the field to trail 19-18 after the first quarter.

There were seven lead changes in the second period but a late scoring burst by point guard Paul, who followed a two-point jump shot with a driving layup, helped Los Angeles edge ahead 39-37 at halftime.

Guard Kyle Korver's three-pointer gave the Hawks their biggest lead at 50-45 but the Clippers finished the third quarter with an unanswered six-point run to go 65-60 up.

The energized Clippers tightened their grip at both ends of the court, and Barnes stole the ball from Ivan Johnson before racing away for a breakaway driving dunk that put his team ahead 70-62.

A Bledsoe three-pointer padded that lead to 79-65 with 6.29 minutes left, and there was no way back for Atlanta.

"It was a hard fought game," said Hawks coach Larry Drew after his team outrebounded the Clippers 41-38 but committed 22 turnovers. "I thought our guys followed the game plan for two-and-a-half quarters.

"In that third quarter, we had forgotten what put us in the position we were in. I told them that on the road, we have got to be consistent and we have got to be on the mark with all of our coverages."

(Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes in Los Angeles; Editing by Gene Cherry)

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