- Associated Press - Saturday, January 7, 2017

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) - Chris Paul is back and so are the Los Angeles Clippers, who have recovered quite nicely following a six-game losing streak.

Austin Rivers scored 24 points and Paul was a difference-maker down the stretch as the Clippers won their third straight game by defeating the Sacramento Kings 106-98 on Friday night.

Rivers made four 3-pointers and the Clippers hit 13 overall in beating the Kings for the ninth straight time in Sacramento. Los Angeles hit five 3s in the fourth quarter, when it outscored the Kings 31-25.

“We have been able to finish (the last three) games when they are close in the fourth quarter,” J.J. Redick said. “We’ve proven we can be a high-level team. We just have to do it consistently.”

It helped having Paul back directing the offense, especially in the fourth quarter. The veteran point guard had 14 points and 12 assists. He made six straight free throws in the final 24 seconds and had six assists in the fourth to help secure the victory.

Paul missed the previous four games and seven of the past eight with a left hamstring injury.

“Down the stretch, it’s funny, you could see that he just hasn’t played and you could see the rust,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. “But still, his grit. His defense and all his little defensive plays that he made down the stretch I thought was the difference in the game.”

Redick drained five 3s and scored 20 points, and DeAndre Jordan had 20 points and nine rebounds for the Clippers.

Austin Rivers carried much of the offensive load again for the Clippers after scoring a season-high 28 points in Wednesday’s win over Memphis. He hit four 3s, shot 9 of 15 overall and added six rebounds.

“He’s been hot lately,” Kings coach Dave Joerger said. “He’s a good player and I mean a couple of times he just lined us up, just hit them with a couple people on him. He has a nice rhythm to him where sometimes he keeps you off balance.”

DeMarcus Cousins had 25 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists for the Kings. Darren Collison scored 20, Rudy Gay had 18 and Ty Lawson added 17 points and six assists.

Sacramento has lost two straight and four of five since a season-high four-game winning streak.

With his team trailing by four points, Cousins shot an airball on a 3. Paul then made four straight free throws to close it out.

Cousins made a 3-pointer and Collison hit two free throws to pull the Kings to 100-98 with 56 seconds remaining. But with a chance to tie on their next possession, the Kings turned the ball over. They quickly fouled Paul, who converted two free throws for a four-point lead.

After a lackluster opening quarter, the Clippers pressured the Kings defensively and were getting plenty of good looks at the other end in the second. Los Angeles outscored Sacramento 34-12 and led 53-39 at halftime.

“They’re a good team. We didn’t expect to blow them out,” Gay said. “I think our execution went down a couple of times and we forced things and that’s what happens. You can’t do that against good teams.”

MOVIN’ ON UP

Paul moved into 10th place on the NBA’s career assists list. He needed six to pass Rod Strickland and did it when he found Luc Mbah a Moute for a dunk midway through the third quarter.

Strickland ended his career with 7,987 assists. Paul now has 7,994, and Doc Rivers thinks there are many more to come.

“That’s awesome. And he has a lot more years left, so he will keep going up on that list,” the coach said.

TIP-INS

Clippers: Reserve big man Marreese Speights missed his first eight shots and finished with seven points and 11 rebounds in 11 minutes. … Jordan was called for a technical foul following a fast-break dunk in the third quarter. He growled at referees when no foul was called. … The Clippers are 12-8 on the road.

Kings: Sacramento altered its starting lineup, inserting Ty Lawson and Matt Barnes, who typically come off the bench. … Cousins was called for his NBA-leading 11th technical in the third quarter after fouling Redick on a 3-point attempt. … Gay, who missed 10 of the previous 11 games with a hip injury, had nine points in the first quarter and finished with seven rebounds.

UP NEXT

Clippers: Host the Miami Heat in the opener of a five-game homestand Sunday.

Kings: Host the Golden State Warriors on Sunday in the first meeting this season between the teams.

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