PATTEN PENDING: 5 KEYS TO WINNING WITHOUT CHRIS PAUL
The Clippers are 1-1 without Chris Paul since he injured his shoulder on Jan. 3. And while the first game without their superstar leader started off about as bad as it possibly could, they bounced back with a convincing 20-point victory over the Magic on Monday. In two games, the Clippers have already learned a lot about how to win with Paul watching from the sideline.
Here are five of the most significant things the team has talked about in the past few days when it comes how they can hold serve in the Western Conference until Paul returns.
Doc Rivers has talked at length about playing with pace, or dictating pace, all season. It will never be more imperative with Darren Collison starting in Paul’s place. Not only does it take advantage of Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan’s superior athleticism, but also helps the 3-point shooting wings get open looks in semi-transition. Jared Dudley talked Tuesday about all of the things playing with pace leads to.
“It shows the way we have to play to be successful, especially without Chris,” Dudley said. “You’ve got to run more. We have to be even more of a transition team where we use D.C.’s speed and athleticism. It helps our role players score more points because they can’t set their defense. There are more threes. Defensively, we have to get stops to be able to do that.”
According to Synergy Sports, the Clippers get 15.6 percent of their points in transition. Predictably, Griffin leads the team with 126 points, but second on the team is Dudley (108) and third is Collison (99). While Collison is running to the rim, Dudley is running to the wing or the short corner for 3-pointers.
DeAndre Jordan, the Clippers’ defensive anchor, said that because Paul orchestrated most of the Clippers’ offense, they will have to make up for it on the defensive end. The old adage of letting defense dictate offense will be very much in play.
The Clippers’ defense has acquitted itself well in six of their eight quarters without Paul. After being dominated in the first half at San Antonio, they have allowed just 21.2 points per quarter since, including holding the Spurs and Magic to 18 points or fewer in three quarters. In those six quarters they also allowed a paltry 39.8 percent (49-of-123). Can they keep it up for another 20 games or so? The schedule ahead might allow it. In 20 games between Jan. 8 and Feb. 21, the Clippers face 12 teams in the bottom half of the league in offensive efficiency and 12 of the 20 games are against teams with a record under .500 as of Jan. 8.
3. BALL MOVEMENT
The most talked about problem regarding the 35-point first half in San Antonio was that the offense got stuck on one side of the court. There was no motion and no ball movement from side to side. That all changed in the second half and it carried over into the win on Monday.
“I thought our ball movement was excellent,” Collison said. “Without a guy like Chris Paul, I think we tend to take the pressure off ourselves when everybody’s moving the ball.”
2. DARREN COLLISON
It goes without saying that the guy replacing Paul in the lineup is important. The win over Orlando was predicated on a number of the previous “keys.” According to Dudley, the person most responsible for the win, though, was the fast-footed Collison.
“I think he played a phenomenal game,” Dudley said. “I think his ball pressure on [Jameer] Nelson was huge. He felt the game come to him. He made shots when he was open. He made plays for people. I felt like he set the tone.”
For Collison, who has averaged nearly 19 points and nine assists in 40 career starts with Paul out of the lineup (remember they were teammates in New Orleans during Collison’s rookie year), it is about striking a balance between playing as a scorer (his natural tendency) and finding shots for his teammates.
“I want to make sure I’m getting everybody involved,” Collison said. “I think the biggest thing is when you’re aggressive then you start to see the openings for your teammates and get them involved.”
1. KNOWING WHO YOU ARE
With Griffin playing his best basketball over the last month, it would be easy to lean on him as the star. He will certainly be more of a playmaker, but overall Rivers, Griffin, Collison and others have maintained that players have to be themselves and not let one person try to replace Paul’s production.
“I think people put too much into it,” Collison said. “I can’t be Chris Paul. Chris Paul’s a great player in this league because he’s himself, you know. I’ve got to play my game.”
Griffin added: “Nobody’s going to replace Chris’ anything. Not his voice, not his game, nothing. Everybody does things differently. We don’t have any other guys that talk like Chris and it will work just fine.
“That would be our biggest mistake to try and replace him, someone or something. Everybody just has to step up and do their job a little bit better.”
How have they done that? In three games Paul has missed this season, Jamal Crawford, for example, has tallied 26 assists (almost nine per game and seven more than his season average). Collison has picked up some of the scoring slack (35 points in the past two games) and Jordan has put up some of his more unbelievable numbers, becoming the first player since Ben Wallace in 2002-03 to have at least 10 points, 15 rebounds and eight blocks twice in the same season. Both of those games came with Paul on the sideline.