Udoh lifts Warriors past Clippers 104-97
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By ANTONIO GONZALEZ
OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) Ekpe Udoh never expected to get a coveted spot in the Golden State Warriors' starting lineup like this.
The way he produced in place of ill center Andris Biedrins almost assures he will get another chance.
In his first start of the season, Udoh had a career-high 19 points to go with eight rebounds and led the Warriors past the Los Angeles Clippers 104-97 on Monday night.
Udoh, a second-year player out of Baylor, found out during the morning shootaround that he would start, and he had the entire day to think about his chance.
"I thought it was a big opportunity. It's a big game," Udoh said. "I had to seize the opportunity, seize the moment."
Consider it done.
Udoh had a layup and followed with a tying put-back dunk with 4:05 remaining that started an 11-2 run to end the game for the Warriors. He also had two blocks, put Blake Griffin and foul trouble and limited center DeAndre Jordan, who Golden State tried to sign in free agency.
Biedrins sat out this time because of flulike symptoms, and it's unclear when he will be back or if he will return to the starting lineup when he does.
For the first time all season, rookie Warriors coach Mark Jackson indicated that Biedrins - the Latvian big man who has so often been the punching bag for Golden State's struggles - might no longer be his starting center.
"The way he played tonight, he gives us something totally different," Jackson said of Udoh. "I will take my time and assess our basketball team and we'll move forward. But he certainly is a guy, when the opportunity presented itself, to command more minutes."
The Clippers struggled to solve Golden State's defense behind a rare inside presence.
Chris Paul had 25 points, six assists and five rebounds, and Mo Williams made his first six 3-pointers and finished with 22 points in Los Angeles' second straight loss. The Clippers had 18 turnovers and shot just 42 percent.
"This one hurt, and it should hurt," said Griffin, who had 21 points and nine rebounds but was in foul trouble for most of the second half.
The rematch of the Clippers' season-opening romp looked little like the original.
Williams made his first three shots from beyond the arc in the fourth quarter, giving the Clippers a one-point lead each time. The last 3 put the Clippers ahead 89-88 halfway through the final period.
What looked to be shaping up as a back-and-forth finish turned out to be a runaway.
Brandon Rush hit a 3-pointer to put the Warriors back in front 98-97 with 2:07 left, and Ellis followed with a running floater over Jordan to extend an avalanche of offense. Udoh lay on the floor for a few minutes clutching a sprained left knee after going for the rebound on the play.
X-rays after the game were negative, and Udoh expects to be back when the Warriors open a six-game road trip at Phoenix on Wednesday night. After waiting this long for the starting spot, perhaps it's no surprise he doesn't want to rest.
"I'm doing whatever Big Dog says, Coach Jackson says, and I'll roll with it," Udoh said.
Udoh's defense paid off big.
He swarmed Griffin - who had a costly turnover when he threw a pass out of bounds in the final minute - and held Jordan to five points and 11 rebounds.
"You have a tough enough time trying to defend Monta and (Stephen) Curry alone," Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro said. "When you throw Udoh into it, it gets a lot tougher."
Golden State's boost at center kept the game close all night.
Udoh made his first five shots to power the Warriors with a rare inside presence. He also grabbed several key rebounds and knocked down a jumper in the second quarter to give Golden State a 33-23 lead early in the second quarter.
The Clippers found their spring, and so did Griffin.
The reigning NBA Rookie of the Year had a left-handed dunk, and spun around Lee for a two-hand slam during a 15-2 run that pushed Los Angeles ahead 38-35 in the second quarter. The Warriors had the final highlight of the half when Udoh swished a jumper with 2.3 seconds remaining to tie it at 56 at the break.
The Clippers turnover woes kept Golden State close.
During the third quarter, Reggie Evans had a pass intercepted by Nate Robinson. The Warriors grabbed two offensive rebounds before Jordan threw another turnover to Lee, allowing Golden State to take a 77-74 lead into the fourth quarter.
NOTES: Curry addressed the crowd before the game, thanking fans for their support in the final home game before the All-Star break. ... Entertainer Too $hort performed with the Warriors dance team during a break in the third quarter. ... Oakland Raiders owner Mark Davis sat courtside in an all white team outfit. Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch and former Raiders quarterback and 1970 Heisman Trophy winner Jim Plunkett also were in attendance.
Follow Antonio Gonzalez at: www.twitter.com/agonzalezAP
Updated February 21, 2012