If it wasn’t just how badly the Los Angeles Clippers needed Chris Paul back, these last two games, and especially the easy win over the Philadelphia 76ers, closing out a so-so road trip, proved the importance of their starting point guard, even if all he needs is 25 minutes.
These are the Clippers at their best – when there starting lineup doesn’t need to play in the final quarter, while Jamal Crawford gets more time to spend on the floor and improve his numbers. The Clippers came to work early, finishing the first half with a 23 points lead, eventually winning 107-90 against a Sixers team that had their two best players on terrible shooting games, not leaving themselves much of a chance.
With Paul scoring 21 points and dishing 11 assists, he’s now averaging 23 points and 9 assists in his first real two games coming off the injury. The one in Miami doesn’t count, because it felt like Paul could have taken another night off, like his entire team. Paul, at his best, isn’t just the best point guard in the NBA, but someone who the team feeds off on both ends of the floor, as the Clippers win their last two road games by double digit margins.
You could feel the love for Chris Paul the moment he returned, as DeAndre Jordan and Jamal Crawford can’t stop singing his praises. Blake Griffin finished with 20 points, 9 rebounds and 5 assists. He has improved as a player on both ends of the floor, but he’s not Paul. He can’t affect the game the same way his point guard can, making him less important, despite the ability to make every highlight reel look better thanks to his presence, than Paul is to the Clippers.
The rest is simply the usual stuff – DeAndre Jordan all grown up, finishing the alley oops and the easy shots, but those only come when the Clippers play great defense. Jordan is much more than just a shot blocker now, but a real inside presence that changes shots. Even without Matt Barnes, who seemed like the most important piece the Clippers have on the bench during their fantastic December and most of January, the Clippers bench is too much to handle for most NBA teams.
Lamar Odom isn’t going to score much in double digits, but he seems happy with where he is in life and with his basketball. He added 8 rebounds and 4 assists, and his ability to be another play-maker from the bench and allowing both Bledsoe and Crawford to focus on scoring, which is their stronger suit, is quite a difference maker for the Clippers to have. Grant Hill isn’t getting the kind of open basketball style he had with Nash in Phoenix, but he’s just doing what he can while hoping it can be enough to make a difference in the postseason. According to everyone on the Clippers, his presence alone has been very beneficial.
This recent road trip showed that while the Clippers have improved this season, it’s all connected to Paul. They are still a force to be reckoned with in the West, especially with everyone healthy, but depending on that one player who can be limited unlike other stars around the league, makes you question the Clippers title credentials this season.