LOS ANGELES (AP) - Kevin Martin didn't have time to talk after leading the Rockets to a sloppy victory over the Los Angeles Clippers. He was already out the door and down the hallway, heading to a red-eye flight home with the team looking forward to a four-day Christmas break.
Martin made his statement on the court by scoring 28 points, including four free throws in the final 16 seconds, and the Rockets held off the stubborn Clippers 97-92 on Wednesday night for their fourth straight victory after nearly blowing an 18-point lead in the second half.
``We had them on the ropes, but we got a little loose with the ball in the second half and allowed them to make a run,' Shane Battier said. ``We've got to do a better job of delivering that knockout blow.'
Luis Scola added 22 points and Battier had 13 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists for the Rockets, who never trailed and recorded their third wire-to-wire victory - one more than they had all of last season.
Houston has won 14 of 24 games after an 0-5 start and can reach the .500 mark for the first time this season with a victory against Washington when the team resumes play Monday at home.
``We're playing better,' Battier said. ``It took us a little while to find out who we were. We're playing with more confidence, and sometimes that goes a long way in this league.'
Rookie Blake Griffin led Los Angeles with 24 points and tied a season high with 18 rebounds - his 17th straight double-double and 23rd overall.
``He's like (Evander) Holyfield. He's the real deal,' Battier said. ``I was impressed. If I could buy stock in Blake Griffin, I would put a fair amount of money into it. He plays fearlessly. No matter how hard he gets hit, he keeps comes back strong. He's so athletic and explosive and he's got a real good feel for the game. That's saying a lot for someone who's essentially a rookie.'
Martin's 3-pointer gave the Rockets their biggest lead, 65-47, with 9:22 left in the third. The Clippers sliced it to 77-70 on Eric Bledsoe's 17-footer after an offensive foul at the other end by Brad Miller, who was hit with a technical during the ensuing timeout for continuing to argue the call.
Eric Gordon converted the free throw, then added a layup on the Clippers' next possession and Griffin cut it to 77-76 on a three-point play with 7:05 remaining. But the Rockets came back with an 11-2 run to pull away to an 88-78 lead with 4:18 to play.
Martin capped the run with a 3-pointer, and Scola hit a clutch 17-footer from the top of the key after Los Angeles sliced the margin to 88-84 on four free throws by DeAndre Jordan and a layup by Gordon.
Griffin drained a rare 3-pointer with 58 seconds to go, and rookie Al-Farouq Aminu cut Houston's lead to 93-92 with three free throws after getting fouled by Scola on a jumper behind the 3-point line. But that was as close as they got. Griffin missed on an attempted tying 3-point shot with 4 seconds on the clock.
``We needed points, so we were trying to take 3s to get back into the game if we didn't have a 2,' Griffin said. ``But I missed too many easy ones tonight and that hurt us. I thought we had energy all the way through, and we kept fighting and fighting. But they hit shots. Kevin Martin played extremely well, especially down the stretch.'
Gordon, coming off a season-high 36-point effort Monday night in a 113-90 win over Minnesota, picked up two fouls in his first 4 1/2 minutes on the floor and had to watch from the bench the rest of the first half as Bledsoe and Randy Foye tried to bring the Clippers back from a 16-point deficit.
Ike Diogu, who was signed by the Clippers as a free agent on Wednesday because of injuries to Chris Kaman, Craig Smith and Brian Cook, scored eight points in 17 minutes.
NOTES: Diogu, picked ninth overall in the 2005 draft by Golden State, sat out all of last season because of microfracture surgery on his left knee and played in just three preseason games with Detroit before he was cut. ... The Clippers are 0-17 when trailing after three quarters.
The Associated Press News Service
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