It’s hard to say what Doc Rivers was thinking as he let Chris Paul and Blake Griffin play for over 40 minutes in a preseason, but it did get out the best from his point guard, delivering a performance in overtime for the Los Angeles Clippers that’s rarely seen by a proven star in a meaningless game.
Paul finished with 40 points and 11 assists as the Clippers beat the Denver Nuggets 118-111. He played for 42 minutes, while co-star Blake Griffin spent 40 minutes on the floor, adding 40 points, 8 rebounds and 5 assists. The Clippers used only 5 bench players, leaving guys like Matt Barnes and J.J. Redick out of the rotation, while Darren Collison had a very big day off the bench as well, playing for 31 minutes and scoring 27 points.
Only two players – Randy Foye and Andre Miller played more than 30 minutes for the Nuggets, but 8 players finished in double figures, including 16 points from Anthony Randolph in what might be his last chance to make it in the NBA and from Evan Fournier. Both players came off the bench, but the French guard should be a starter for the Nuggets next to Ty Lawson once the regular season begins.
The Clippers gave Willie Green a chance to play in the lineup, something that won’t happen much this season. He didn’t do too well, scoring four points off the bench, and won’t keep J.J. Redick worried about losing his spot. The Clippers have Jamal Crawford to create points off the bench, even though his spark plug quality doesn’t influence the rest of the team – he’s a soloist that doesn’t see anyone else when he has the ball.
The Clippers are probably deeper than ever before, but that’s not enough, as last season showed. Being top heavy seems to be as important and maybe even more, and one of Rivers’ goals this season should be that Chris Paul doesn’t have to play this much and this well in order for the Clippers to do better than a first round in the playoffs. The team has transformed from the ugly sister in Los Angeles to the best team in the city, a popular one on a national level or at least entertaining enough to watch and draw attention. The next step is contending, which means at least a conference finals. Keeping the formula at the same place, which means Chris Paul taking too much on his shoulders, won’t get them very far.