PAUL TAKES ON ALL DEFENSIVE CHALLENGES
Stephen Curry won’t guard Chris Paul Wednesday night.
Damian Lillard won’t in the Clippers’ season finale in Portland and Tony Parker won’t, at least very often, if the Clippers and Spurs meet down the road again this season.
It’s nothing new for Paul.
Opposing point guards, even All-Star point guards, have avoided guarding him for nine years. The idea is that length bothers him. It’s why Andre Iguodala will likely start the game Wednesday guarding Paul, the seven-time All-Star, perennial MVP candidate and league’s most complete point guard.
Jared Dudley, who is in his first season with the Clippers after five years of combating Paul while with the Phoenix Suns, knows what it’s like to send a bigger, longer defender after the Clippers’ leader.
“Obviously, with Chris he posts up little guards. He’s very aggressive. He’s very smart. So, people try to use length,” Dudley said. “We did that when I was in Phoenix. I remember one time when Grant Hill tried to [guard him].”
The Suns hid Steve Nash on Caron Butler or Willie Green in the season Dudley is referencing, and while Hill had some success doing it, the cross-match at point guard can have its downside for opponents.
The transition game is where it negatively impacts teams the most. On Feb. 12 when the Blazers used Nicolas Batum almost exclusively on Paul, Clippers head coach Doc Rivers told Matt Barnes and Jamal Crawford to sprint to the corners at every opportunity on offense. The idea was to leave Portland scrambling to find their man, while spreading the floor out as much as possible.
Paul scored 20 points with 12 assists in that game, a 122-117 win the day before the All-Star break.
“Every time we got a rebound we wanted Matt and Jamal to sprint to the corners because maybe they would mess it up,” Rivers said. “And a couple of times they did and we got open shots.”
Did Batum’s length bother Paul? Rivers looked down at the box score sitting in front of him and laughed it off.
“I don’t know. 20 and 12,” Rivers said. “It’s harder because of the size, I guess.”
The idea is to make Paul work harder to get his points and assists. He’s 6-foot, 185 pounds. From Bruce Bowen in the 2008 Playoffs to Corey Brewer to Luc Mbah a Moute to Iguodala on Wednesday, it’s a similar big bodied, lanky defender that usually takes him on.
Curry, Lillard and others have been placed among the great young point guards when in many ways they are far from complete players, but Paul would never say it or show it. While they guard a player off the ball, Paul takes the challenge head on. During one stretch this season, Paul held seven consecutive point guards, including the aforementioned All-Stars, to a combined 30.9 percent shooting. It’s why Paul is widely considered among the best two-way players in the league.
“Igoudala will most likely guard Chris. If not at some point, all game," Rivers said. "That allows Steph [Curry] to go out and just play a lot. I think that probably bothers Chris more than anybody when they compare him to all of the guards and he says, ‘I guard everybody.’ I think that does bother Chris a little bit.
“Chris guards everybody. We don’t hide Chris. He’s one of our best defenders.”
In past seasons, though, when teams cross-matched with Paul and the Clippers, there weren’t enough offensive weapons to make them pay for it. Now, Dudley thinks it’s different, even with J.J. Redick and Jamal Crawford out. It’s just a matter of continuing to run the offense the way they have been, instead of trying to outwardly exploit a potential mismatch.
“Matt’s playing phenomenal, so I don’t think you can try to tell him to do something differently, just keep doing what we do,” Dudley said. ““Most times, Chris Paul will guard the point guard, so right when we get the ball we are in transition running. Whenever we do something that’s fluid in the offense, usually we have success.”
And that starts with Paul, the ultimate gamer, no matter who is across from him.
On Wednesday morning, he spoke to the media with his right thumb bandaged and his shoulder covered by a neoprene sleeve. Iguodala, all 6-foot-6 and 207 pounds of him, was waiting. And Paul, who leads the NBA in assists, was ready.