The Clippers needed to be perfect, or something like it, if they hoped to defeat the Oklahoma City Thunder and reclaim the top spot in the NBA's overall standings. They weren't close because they lacked the one man who could direct them to a flawless game. | PHOTOS

When the game suddenly and unexpectedly got tight in the fourth quarter, the Clippers couldn't complete their rally and the Thunder held on for a 109-97 victory on Tuesday night in front of a sellout crowd of 19,451 at Staples Center.

"Chris is the orchestrator," Clippers guard Jamal Crawford said of injured point guard Chris Paul, who didn't play for the fourth time in six games because of a bruised right kneecap "He orchestrates everything on the court. We miss him for sure. There's no way to replace him."

Eric Bledsoe took Paul's spot as the Clippers' starting point guard, but couldn't provide the required direction against the league-leading Thunder. Bledsoe had his moments, and the Clippers took the good (12 points) with the bad (5-for-16 shooting).

The Clippers did a credible job on Oklahoma City's Kevin Durant in the first half, holding him to eight points on 3-for-8 shooting. Not coincidentally, the Thunder led the Paul-less Clippers only 49-45 at halftime.

It wouldn't stay that close for long,