LOS ANGELES -- There was a time when the two point guards going head-to-head at the Staples Center Saturday night were considered the best in the league, sparking a debate of which one was better.

Chris Paul and Deron Williams, drafted in the same class in 2005, will forever be linked, and the guy better known as CP3 certainly gets a rise out of Williams when the two collide.

"It's fun to play against Chris," Williams said Saturday night. "He's definitely one of the best point guards in this league, a great competitor and good friend of mine. I enjoy competing against him."

Even if Paul got the better of him this time. Williams made a critical gaffe in the final minute and the Clippers' All-Star point guard took over down the stretch, netting 17 of his game-high 29 points in the fourth quarter and finishing with 11 assists to send the Nets to a 101-95 defeat.

Los Angeles took a 92-90 lead with 2:04 left on Paul's jumper, and the Nets then were done in by one of their 15 turnovers. Just after bringing the ball upcourt, Williams telegraphed a lazy pass intended for Gerald Wallace, and Jamal Crawford -- who had been quiet until that point -- stole it and raced downcourt. Crawford flushed it home for a backbreaking dunk and a 94-90 lead with 48 seconds to play.

"Definitely, the turnover I had was a huge, costly play," Williams said, "one I wish I could get back."

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Referring to Crawford, he said, "He's good at that. Gerald looks like he's open and as soon as I throw it, Jamal just kind of shoots back and then he breaks on the ball. He made a good play on the ball and it was a careless pass by me."

But Wallace, who finally rediscovered his offensive touch and scored 13 of his 15 points in the second half, also took partial blame.

"We've been running that play all year long, just hit the wing right there and Deron flexes off," Wallace said. "I just underestimated. I didn't think he was going to gamble. I didn't think he was going to shoot the gap. I didn't do what I was supposed to to get open and he made a hell of a play."

After Joe Johnson, who suffered a right quadriceps contusion early in the third quarter, banked in a tough runner with 41.8 seconds remaining to bring the Nets back within two, Paul hit a circus shot in the lane with 22 seconds left after getting fouled by Williams. His three-point play gave the Clippers a 97-92 lead, sealing the victory. That sent the Nets to Phoenix with a 2-1 mark on a road trip that's taking them through all four time zones.

"It's a game of mistakes," Nets interim coach P.J. Carlesimo said. "We just made a few too many to beat a really good team in their building."

Williams and Brook Lopez had 18 points each, with Williams adding nine assists. Johnson added 15 points and Reggie Evans had 16 rebounds.

The Nets (40-29) fell 21/2 games behind the Atlantic Division-leading Knicks (42-26).

"We came in here, we played a tough game," Williams said. "We played a good team tonight, a playoff team. We're happy with how well we played, but at the same time, we wanted to win. We felt like we could come in here and get a win."

and determine the high-flying team.

"We don't really throw lobs,'' Williams said before the game. "I think I've thrown like two lobs this whole season.''

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But the team the Nets were playing surely does, and that was one of their biggest concerns against the Clippers in the third of eight consecutive road games. The Clippers have been hyped with the whole "Lob City'' thing, which features super-dunkers Blake Griffin and Jordan.

Evans played with the Clippers last season and understands how much those dunks can enliven the crowd, creating an extremely tough environment.

"With my Clippers, fellas, it was so many to where I almost can't comment,'' Evans said. "It's like, 'Whoa.' You've just got to gather yourself and you may hit your teammates when you are on the bench, like when Blake did a couple of dunks on [the Lakers' Pau Gasol]. To see Andruw Bynum's reaction . . . ''