Despite the franchise record for wins and consecutive victories, not to mention a division title and finishing ahead of the Los Angeles Lakers, the only thing that will be satisfying for the Los Angeles Clippers after they play their final game of the 2012-2013 NBA season will be if it’s in the Western Conference semifinal, and it’ll mean Chris Paul will stay for a very long time.
Last season, it ended in the semifinal, in a demoralizing sweep against the San Antonio Spurs, showing the Clippers there’s still a very long way to go before they’ll be good enough to challenge for the NBA title, which believe it or not, is the grand plan. So the Clippers bolstered up on the bench, keeping the starting lineup pretty much the same, and went to war better and more confident. It ends with a season of 55-56 wins, and hopefully home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
There’s also the Pacific division title to be proud of. There’s nothing special about division titles in the NBA except for the top 4 immunity they give the team, which usually doesn’t mean very much. For a franchise, in all of its stops around the United States, that has never won a division title, it means more than others. For the little sister of the Los Angeles Lakers, finishing with a better record than the popular sports franchise in Southern California while sweeping the season series, it means something. It’s only the fourth time since arriving in LA in 1984 that the Clippers finish the regular season with a better record than the Lakers.
All this began with Blake Griffin, making the Clippers an exciting team to watch after getting drafted, but his arrival, delayed for a year because of an injury, meant only three more wins in the 2010-2011 season. Not exactly a game-changing move. The arrival of Chris Paul? That’s something completely different.
While Blake Griffin, continuing to improve, might become the best power forward in the NBA one day, Chris Paul has been the NBA’s best point guard, more or less, for quite a while now. It didn’t get him too far with the New Orleans Hornets, but in LA, by turning the red half of the city into the dominant one, the potential for greatness and immortality (yes, you read it correctly) is much greater.
Because the Clippers looked during certain stages this season like the best team in the NBA, with a defense that causes turnover after turnover and moves quicker than anyone up the court to make the most of those steals. While Paul isn’t the only one on the court making those defensive miracles happen, Paul is the most important aspect of that. His offense is obviously the big thing about what the Clippers do. He takes control of games in the end, stopping with the passing and beginning with his clutch shooting and unstoppable isolation dribbles.
Defensively, he’s the one that keeps the Clippers on their toes, not coach Del Negro. When Paul is focused, the rest of the team follows. Suddenly their switches and rotations are on time and on the spot. Suddenly they don’t give defenders room to breathe, while DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin’s awareness rises to unusual levels.
It’s hard being 100% focused for an entire postseason, but if Chris Paul is the truly elite player he wants to be paid like once this season is over, he needs to be that good against anyone that stands in the way in the 2013 NBA playoffs, taking the Clippers further than they’ve ever been before.