Originally posted on Fox Sports West  |  Last updated 3/17/12
LOS ANGELES When Chauncey Billups, wearing a suit and bearing a walking cast, a crutch and a big smile, came through the doors to the Clippers locker room Saturday morning, he was greeted like a long lost brother. "Suited and booted," cackled Mo Williams, who was quickly joined by Chris Paul and Kenyon Martin in poking fun at Billups. Just outside, Nick Young essentially the replacement for Billups, whose ruptured Achilles tendon has altered the Clippers' fortunes could not wipe away his ear-to-ear grin as he spoke with reporters. Here he was, a hometown guy, rescued from the Wizards "every other night it was the Not Top 10, laughingstock," Young said and getting a chance to play at home with Paul, Blake Griffin and Co., and remake his reputation and earn a new contract this summer. "I can't mess this up," Young said. There was symmetry in the arrivals of Billups and Young, one the player whose injury is the root of the Clippers' slide and the other the possible solution to stopping it. Billups was seated on the bench, and Young who cannot play until everyone involved in the three-team deal clears his physical behind it. Each got an up-close look at the ills that have befallen the Clippers, who struggled to a 95-91 victory over a Houston Rockets team that was missing its starting backcourt (Kyle Lowery and Kevin Martin) and suited up just nine players, one of whom Courtney Fortson was signed out of the D League earlier in the day. "We just kept grinding it out," Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro said. "It wasn't easy. Nothing really came easy for us." If blowing a 17-point lead Thursday to Phoenix, which was without Steve Nash and Grant Hill, was enough to prompt an hour-long, closed-door meeting afterward, the Clippers might have just barricaded themselves in until Sunday's 12:30 game against Detroit if they had lost to the Rockets. That looked like a distinct possibility when they trailed by 14 points in the second quarter, and when Patrick Patterson powered his way into the lane and tossed in a jump hook over Griffin to give Houston an 87-81 lead with 2:57 to play. Then Paul rescued them. He scored 10 consecutive points, the last coming on a driving layup that put the Clippers ahead, 91-89, with 24.6 seconds left. He then stole a pass from Houston guard Gorin Dragic, and fed the ball up the court to Randy Foye, who was fouled and sank two free throws. The Rockets never got the ball back with a chance to tie. Paul even won a jump ball from Houston forward Luis Scola. "That is what star players in the league do," said Del Negro of Paul's play down the stretch. The victory provided a temporary salve for the Clippers, who were challenging Oklahoma City for the Western Conference lead when Billups was hurt on Feb. 6. They are 10-11 since and had lost five of their last seven. In their meeting Thursday night, each player in the room took turns talking about what he could do for the team, an exercise they hoped would lead to greater accountability. "There are some games when I look and say, man, we're playing selfish offensively and defensively," Billups said at a news conference before the game. "It's tough watching. When I went down, roles had been defined, guys had embraced their roles, guys knew when they were going to play, when they were coing out. We finally got to that point it wasn't easy then unfortunately I go down and things kind of changed a little bit. They're scrambling to figure it out." Billups, who maintains that the Clippers have enough to contend for a championship this season, plans to be a presence on the Clippers' bench and at practices which have scant because of the condensed schedule. But his rehabilitation will not yet allow for travel. On Saturday, his seat on the bench was between the coaches and players, and he took turns offering counsel to DeAndre Jordan, Mo Williams and Paul or anyone else who wandered by. "He's always seeing the game," Williams said. Paul and Billups, who forged a bond as teammates on the 2008 Olympic team, talk on the phone after most games, but Paul said it was valuable to have Billups on the bench. "It's one thing to talk to him after a game, where you can't change what happened," Paul said. "Now he's actually here at the game. He told me in the second half, C, we need you to score, be more offensive-minded,' and I needed that." Paul scored 21 of his 23 points in the second half, taking advantage of a tweak to the Clippers' pick-and-rolls that allowed him to get into the lane with less difficulty. But with the exception of Mo Williams, the Clippers' perimeter shooters continued to struggle. Caron Butler and Foye made just 10 of 32 shots, including 2 of 12 3-pointers. That's an area where Young, who is expected to make his debut Tuesday at Indiana, may help. He returned home to a meal at Jack-N-The Box, which he lamented didn't have franchises in Washington D.C., and took an early, meandering drive from his home in Los Angeles to the arena Saturday morning, letting the idea of a return home sink in. As the final hours of the trade deadline approached Thursday, Young grew restless as he returned to his hotel room after the Wizards shoot-around in New Orleans. "I didn't know whether to take my pregame nap or pack up and get ready to go," Young said. "I didn't know what was going to happen." A short time later, as Young continued to talk with several reporters at the edge of the locker room, Billups passed by. They slapped hands and nodded, an unspoken acknowledgement of the reason they were there to give a hand out to a team that, at the moment, can desperately use one.
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