LOS ANGELES — Chauncey Billups had no intention of calling it quits last February when his season ended because of a torn left Achilles’ tendon. He didn’t need to come back, but didn’t want his stellar NBA career to end that way.
Nine excruciating months later, the five-time All-Star made it back on the court with the Los Angeles Clippers and gave them the spark they needed to beat the Minnesota Timberwolves 101-95 on Wednesday night.
“I still have a burning desire to win,” said Billups, the 2004 NBA Finals MVP with Detroit. “The night I went down, before I even left the locker room, everybody was saying I was retiring. But those were people who didn’t know me and my fabric and where I’m from.
“I could understand why they would say that,” he added. “I mean, I’m 35, I’ve pretty much done it all, made a good living for myself and my family, and did everything I wanted to do. So why would I come back? But that’s just not how I’m cut, man. I wasn’t going to go out like that — not to prove everybody wrong, but for my own self.”
Billups, beginning his 16th season, had seven points and three assists in 19 minutes as the Clippers ended a four-game losing streak. The Clippers outscored Minnesota 49-44 while he was on the floor.
“I knew this day was going to come, but I didn’t know it was going to happen before the year ended,” said backcourt mate Chris Paul, who had 23 points and 11 assists. “I talked to him that night after he got injured, and a lot of people in this league thought it was over for him. But not him. We’re too much alike. He wasn’t going out like that, so it was great to see him back out there. I’m just glad he isn’t in a suit anymore.”
Billups, who was replaced in the starting lineup at shooting guard by Willie Green for the Clippers’ first 14 games, got their first basket on a 3-pointer from the top of the key 42 seconds after the opening tip. It was his only basket of the game in five attempts. All of his points came during his first stint on the court, which ended with 6:06 left in the opening quarter.
“I was just so excited to be back after such a long time,” Billups said. “I’ve only played full court like three times since the injury, so knowing that, I’m trying to be patient with myself. It’s going to take a little while. I got back pretty far ahead of schedule. To be honest, I was going to be back before this, but there were a couple of small setbacks, which was expected, because I had to recalibrate my body for playing an intense level of basketball.”
He averaged 15.0 points and 4.0 assists in 20 games last season with the Clippers after the Clippers claimed him when the New York Knicks waived him through the amnesty clause.
“There’s nothing like a real live game,” he added. “I’m sure I’ll be sore in the morning, and I’m pretty sure it’ll be like that for the first week or two. It’s kind of like the way guys are the first few days of training camp.”
Blake Griffin, who had career lows in points (four) and field goals made (one) during Monday night’s 105-98 home loss to New Orleans, had 18 points and six rebounds. Caron Butler, who scored 33 points in that game and set a franchise record with a career-high nine 3-point baskets, missed his first five shots and finished 1 for 8 with two points in 24 minutes.
Kevin Love had 19 points and 12 rebounds for Minnesota and is averaging 23.0 points and 15.6 boards in five games since returning from a broken right hand he sustained in the preseason. Last January at Staples Center, he hit a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to send the Clippers to a 101-98 loss.
Alexey Shved had 17 points off the bench for the Wolves, who outrebounded the Clippers 52-35 — including 21 off the offensive glass. Josh Howard, who signed with Minnesota as a free agent on Nov. 16, made his first start of the season at small forward in Andrei Kirilenko’s place and had seven points on 3-for-9 shooting.
The injury-depleted Timberwolves, already missing point guard Ricky Rubio, Brandon Roy and Chase Budinger, didn’t have small forward Kirilenko at their disposal either because of back spasms. But they learned several hours before the game that Rubio, recovering from torn ligaments in his left knee, was cleared by doctors for full-contact practices.
The lead changed hands four times in the fourth quarter before Paul’s 15-footer put the Clippers ahead to stay at 86-85 with 4:33 to play. DeAndre Jordan swatted Howard’s attempted layup out of bounds on Minnesota’s next possession, bringing Billups back into the game.
Griffin hit a 21-footer, then made it 90-85 with a slam dunk off a bounce pass from Jordan, who rebounded Billups’ missed 3-point shot. Jordan missed two free throws with 2:01 remaining, but made up for it with a three-point play off a fast-break dunk to give the Clippers a 93-88 advantage with 59 seconds left.
“I’m happy with how the team’s been fighting,” Love said. “We’ve just been losing some tough ones in the second half, and tonight was no different.”
The Wolves cut it to 95-93 on a 3-pointer by Shved, who faked Matt Barnes into the first row of seats before putting up the shot. But Jordan responded with an alley-oop gunk on a lob from Billups with 16 seconds to go, and the Clippers locked it up with four free throws by Paul.
Paul navigated the Clippers to a 57-55 halftime lead with 11 points and six assists, one of them coming on Jordan’s dunk in the final second.
Los Angeles trailed by as many as nine points early in the second quarter before pulling ahead 38-36 with an 11-0 run. Lamar Odom, still struggling to get untracked since rejoining the Clippers as a free agent, capped the rally with an offensive rebound of Eric Bledsoe’s missed jumper and a put-back dunk with 6:47 left in the half. In Monday night’s loss, Odom played more than 19 minutes without attempting a field goal for the first time in his 14-year NBA career.
WIZARDS 84, TRAIL BLAZERS 82
WASHINGTON — Washington earned its first victory after starting the season with 12 straight losses, getting 19 points from Jordan Crawford to beat Portland.
Washington survived a scoreless 6:47 in the fourth when Crawford hit on a 3-pointer with 2:06 to play, and the Wizards finally took the 84-82 lead on Emeka Okafor’s two free throws with 39.1 seconds remaining.
Damian Lillard was called for traveling with 28 seconds left. After Nene was called for an offensive foul, J.J. Hickson missed a jumper with 2.8 seconds to play. The Wizards lost the ball with 0.2 seconds to go, but held on to end the skid.
Nine teams started the season 0-13, and the Wizards were tired of the ridicule they’d been subjected to — locally and nationally — as they crept toward the Nets’ NBA record-worst start of 0-18.
THUNDER 120, ROCKETS 98
OKLAHOMA CITY — Kevin Durant matched his season high with 37 points, and Oklahoma City beat Houston in James Harden’s first game back at Chesapeake Energy Arena since being traded by the Thunder before the season.
Harden scored 17 points, but was limited to 3-for-16 shooting. He had six shots blocked by the Thunder.
Patrick Patterson scored 27 points and Omer Asik had 17 points and 12 rebounds to lead the way for the Rockets, who began the day by attending the funeral of coach Kevin McHale’s daughter in Minnesota.
Harden missed his first nine shots, and by the time he made one, the Rockets were down by double digits in the second half. They never got closer than 10 after that.
BULLS 101, MAVERICKS 78
CHICAGO — Luol Deng had 22 points and six rebounds to lead Chicago over Dallas.
Five players scored at least 11 points to help the Bulls (7-7) beat the Mavericks for the fourth straight time.
Nate Robinson added 14 points and six assists for Chicago, and fellow reserve Jimmy Butler scored a career-high 13, including 9-of-10 shooting from the free throw line.
Joakim Noah chipped in 13 points, 10 rebounds, five assists and three blocks as Chicago avoided its first three-game losing streak at the United Center since dropping five straight in March 2010.
Shawn Marion scored 18 points for Dallas, which shot just 35 percent to lose for the eighth time in 11 games. The Mavericks (7-9), who had won 21 of 27 against Chicago, dropped to 2-6 on the road.
GRIZZLIES 103, RAPTORS 82
MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Marreese Speights had 18 points and 12 rebounds to help Memphis beat Toronto for its third straight win.
Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph finished with 17 points apiece, while Randolph added 13 rebounds and six assists. Mike Conley had 16 points, going 4 of 5 on 3-pointers, and Rudy Gay added 14 as the Grizzlies maintained the best record in the NBA (11-2).
DeMar DeRozan led the Raptors with 16 points, while Kyle Lowry and Jose Calderon scored 12 apiece. Linas Kleiza added 11 points, but was 5 of 15 from the field, as Toronto lost its sixth straight.
The Raptors played without Andrea Bargnani, their second-leading scorer, who sat out after hurting his left ankle in Tuesday night’s loss at Houston.
KNICKS 102, BUCKS 88
MILWAUKEE — Carmelo Anthony scored 29 points to lead New York past Milwaukee.
Anthony, who sat out the fourth quarter, was 9 of 18 from the floor and also grabbed eight rebounds in 30 minutes. The second-leading scorer in the NBA has scored at least 29 points in his last four games, including 35 points and 13 rebounds in a 96-89 overtime loss at Brooklyn on Monday.
New York’s Steve Novak added 19 points and Tyson Chandler chipped in with 17 points and eight rebounds for the Knicks, who snapped a three-game road losing streak.
Jason Kidd missed his second game in a row for New York with lower back spasms.
Milwaukee’s Brandon Jennings and Beno Udrih each scored 18 points. The Bucks have lost four of their last five.
PISTONS 117, SUNS 77
AUBURN HILLS, Mich. — Brandon Knight and Charlie Villanueva scored 19 points apiece, and Detroit routed Phoenix to win back-to-back games for the first time this season.
Detroit is 5-3 since opening 0-8. The Pistons led 55-44 at halftime and then broke the game open when the Suns came unglued in the third quarter. Phoenix picked up four technical fouls in the third and trailed by as many as 44 in the fourth.
Rodney Stuckey added 18 points for Detroit. Kyle Singler and Tayshaun Prince contributed 12 each, and Greg Monroe had nine points and eight rebounds.
Luis Scola scored 11 points for the Suns.
The Pistons avenged a 92-89 loss at Phoenix in early November.
HAWKS 94, BOBCATS 91
ATLANTA — Al Horford scored 17 points and hit two clinching free throws to help Atlanta beat Charlotte for its sixth straight victory.
Josh Smith and Lou Williams also had 17 points apiece for the Hawks.
Ben Gordon finished with 26 points and Ramon Sessions had 18 to lead Charlotte, which has lost two straight and three of four.
Gordon’s straightaway 3-pointer with 29.1 seconds remaining cut Atlanta’s lead to 92-91. The Bobcats got the ball back, but Sessions’ inbounds pass from the left sideline was ruled a turnover after the officials watched replays and concluded neither Gordon nor Smith touched the ball, which bounced out of bounds on the other side of the court with 5.2 seconds to go.
SPURS 110, MAGIC 89
ORLANDO, Fla. — Manu Ginobili had 20 points, Gary Neal scored 19 and San Antonio raced past Orlando for its fifth straight win.
Tim Duncan added 15 points in 27 minutes and Tony Parker chipped in 14 points and eight assists.
The Spurs also posted their eighth consecutive victory on the road and have now beaten the Magic in five of their last six meetings.
Arron Afflalo led the Magic with 16 points, followed by Jameer Nelson with 14. The Magic struggled from the field, connecting on just two of their 15 3-point attempts.
Orlando has lost two straight and concludes its season-high, five-game homestand Friday against Brooklyn.
JAZZ 96, HORNETS 84
NEW ORLEANS — Al Jefferson had 19 points, Marvin Williams scored 16 before leaving with concussion symptoms and Utah won its second straight game by defeating New Orleans.
Paul Millsap scored nine of his 16 points during a dominant third quarter for Utah, and Gordon Hayward had 13 of his 15 points in the fourth quarter to help the Jazz overcome one last New Orleans surge.
Robin Lopez and Greivis Vasquez each scored 18 points for New Orleans, which has lost eight of nine. Brian Roberts added 11 points. But the Hornets, who defeated Utah in an earlier meeting this season, struggled from 3-point range this time, going 5 of 21.
Utah was a disciplined 6 of 11 from deep.