COLLISON WAS IRREPLACEABLE IN PAUL’S STEAD

Collison averaged 13.3 points and 6.5 assists per game

LOS ANGELES – Darren Collison has not had a single, defined role in the first 54 games of his debut season with the Clippers.

He’s been a reserve point guard and a starter. He’s been asked to be a high-energy, scoring threat off the bench and a patient distributor. He’s alongside Chris Paul, behind him and without him.

Collison’s been asked to do it all. No more so than when he stepped in for Paul, who was out with a separated right shoulder, for the past month, helping the Clippers win 12 of 18 games and keep pace in the ever-challenging Western Conference.

“We were basically down to a single point guard team and D.C. (Collison) was it,” Clippers head coach Doc Rivers said. “We were using Jamal as a backup. We signed a 10-day and were using him as the backup. So, it was a tough stretch for us, but we weathered the storm obviously. D.C. was the key. He logged a lot of minutes.”

Collison played 32 minutes per game, including topping 35 in seven of the 18 games Paul missed. He played through a painful toe injury that he never complained about and when asked always said it was getting better.

He was tough and steady and effective. From Jan. 4, the first game without Paul, to Feb. 7, Collison averaged 13.3 points and 6.5 assists per game. He shot 47.4 percent from the field, 43.1 percent from 3-point range and 89.5 percent from the foul line.

Undoubtedly, the Clippers (36-18), despite the herculean efforts of Jamal Crawford and Blake Griffin, do not keep their head above water without Collison, more so operate at the second most efficient clip on offense in the league and gain ground on the Trail Blazers for the No. 3 seed. In a lot of ways, it’s exactly why the Clippers wanted Collison in the offseason. He had experience backing up Paul and more than 200 starts in four years in the league.

“I’ve always liked his speed. I’ve always liked his defensive pressure,” Rivers said of Collison when asked what drew him to Collison before approaching him this summer. “I looked at him coming off the bench for Chris and changing the tempo of the game for us. And I think he’s done that. As a starter I think he’s done a really nice job of just staying with what he does and running the team at the same time.”

Even though he had experience starting for Paul when the two played together in New Orleans, this time around was different. The Clippers have championship aspirations. It’s one of the reasons Collison rejected more lucrative contracts this offseason to come to L.A. To have a sniff at a potential home court Playoff series in the West, they could not afford to slip. Collison was also playing with two players in Crawford and Griffin that required the ball, an adjustment from being a ball-pressure, high-energy scoring guard off the bench. 

“It shows you that he was a starting point guard at one point and time,” Jared Dudley said. “It’s tough to play with Blake [Griffin] and Jamal [Crawford], they’re strong personalities. They need the ball and that’s a big responsibility.”

Collison took on the responsibility. Now that Paul has returned, scoring seven points with eight assists in 23 minutes of Sunday’s blowout victory over the Philadelphia 76ers, Collison willingly slotted back into his reserve role. And the Clippers will be better for it.

“A lot of the things he was doing well for us he couldn’t do anymore [when he became a starter],” Rivers said. “He couldn’t pressure the ball anymore. One of the reasons we wanted him was because he could pick the ball up and shorten the clock. Well, when you’re playing 35 minutes you’re not going to be picking the ball up anymore and he didn’t. That will be nice to see again.”