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Griffin battles with Cousins, leads Clippers past Kings

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Associated Press
4/6/2012 2:01:45 AM
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SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- Blake Griffin took a rare night off from dunking, and he still found a way to frustrate an opposing big man.

Griffin made three straight jumpers in the closing minutes to finish with 14 points and nine rebounds, overcoming a bruising battle with DeMarcus Cousins to lift the Los Angeles Clippers to a 93-85 victory over the Sacramento Kings on Thursday night.

"I thought that was a great football game tonight," Kings coach Keith Smart said. "It was two big guys playing and these guys are physical. It's going to be a great rivalry."

Maybe one day.

Two of the NBA's best budding big men exchanged several shoves, elbows and words -- with Griffin doing his best to stay quiet against the hot-tempered Cousins -- throughout until last season's NBA Rookie of the Year and slam-dunk champion took over late.

Griffin's last jumper with 2:18 remaining put the Clippers ahead by three, and they held on to rebound from a loss to the Lakers a night earlier that ended a six-game winning streak -- the franchise's best in 20 years -- and slowed momentum to overtake its crosstown rival in the Pacific Division.

"It wasn't me going at anybody. I don't want to get that started," said Griffin, who had Cousins in constant foul trouble. "That's something that will hopefully go away for him. When guys get frustrated, that's what happens."

Randy Foye scored 20 points and Chris Paul had 13 points and eight assists for Los Angeles, closing to two games back of the Lakers. The Clippers host Sacramento on Saturday night, and no doubt the attention will be back on the two big men.

While Griffin insisted he was moving on from the back-and-forth with Cousins, Sacramento's second-year centre has other plans.

"That's what Blake is going to say because he's in L.A., where actors belong," said Cousins, held to eight points and three rebounds before fouling out in the final seconds. "And he's an actor."

The Kings started to crawl back against the Clippers behind their bench and a pair of rookies.

Isaiah Thomas acrobatically avoided Kenyon Martin at the rim, with all 5-foot-9 of the point guard shielding the ball for a layup to give Sacramento a 72-71 lead in the fourth. After the Clippers went back ahead by four, Jason Thompson tipped in a rebound and Jimmer Fredette followed with a 3-pointer to put the Kings in front by three with 4:11 to play.

That about ended Sacramento's highlights.

Griffin, known best for his soaring dunks and mesmerizing athleticism, made three straight jumpers to give the Clippers an 84-81 lead. He also drew a fifth foul on DeMarcus Cousins moments later -- a call that had Kings coach Keith Smart stomping his feet -- and maintained his composure while the short-tempered Cousins constantly tangled up with him.

The teams traded baskets until time started to run out on Sacramento and it was forced to foul. Foye made four straight free throws -- the last with 14.4 seconds remaining for a five-point lead that sealed the victory.

Thomas finished with 17 points and Thompson had 15 points and 16 rebounds for the Kings, losers of six of their last eight. Sacramento is buried in last place in the Pacific Division and headed for another year in the NBA draft lottery.

At the very least, the physical play in the paint that escalated between Cousins and Griffin showed some fight.

After officials whistled Sacramento's Francisco Garcia for a technical foul for a late push that sent Paul into the basket's padding, Cousins shoved Griffin amid a small scrum that broke out under the hoop in the first quarter. They pushed and pulled each other for a rebound on the next possession, exchanging words nose to nose, and officials talked to each privately during a timeout.

Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro sat Griffin the first 7:30 of the second quarter, and Martin and Reggie Evans -- players who've carved out careers with punishing plays -- led a defensive charge that stymied Sacramento and Cousins. Los Angeles outscored the Kings 17-7 to begin the period, opening a 44-30 lead with most of its stars on the bench.

Sacramento answered with 12 straight points behind a flurry of foul shots as officials tried to keep the physical play from getting out of control. Paul and Griffin returned, and the Clippers pushed ahead 48-42 at halftime.

Cousins picked up his fourth foul reaching in against Griffin with 10:49 remaining in the third quarter, relegating Sacramento's big man -- who has been surging since Smart took over for the fired Paul Westphal after a 2-5 start -- to the bench until 4:35 left in the fourth. Los Angeles built a 65-54 lead at one point during that span.

"I thought it got a little bit physical there," Del Negro said. "But Blake did a really good job of keeping his composure."

NOTES: Clippers G Mo Williams sat out with a sprained left big toe. Williams hopes to play Saturday night when the Clippers host Sacramento in Los Angeles. ... The Kings played without G Marcus Thornton (bruised left calf) and reserve F John Salmons (sore right hip) for the second straight game.

Blake Griffin (Photo: Rocky Widner/NBAE/Getty Images)

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(Photo: Rocky Widner/NBAE/Getty Images)
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