BLEDSOE LEADS CLIPPERS IN PAUL'S ABSENCE

Eric Bledsoe

MEMPHIS – Minutes after injured star Chris Paul spoke to the media at Monday morning’s shoot-around, his understudy, quiet yet explosive youngster Eric Bledsoe was surrounded by cameras and tape recorders.

It must have been a familiar feeling, being that it was the same place, FedEx Forum, where the now third-year guard emerged as a rising star in the 2012 postseason, hounding the Memphis Grizzlies in Game 7 and scoring five points in the stretch run of the team’s historic comeback two weeks earlier.

This time around Bledsoe was perhaps in a more difficult spot. For the first time in the new season, the 22-year-old was charged with leading the Clippers as a starter.

Paul, the soon-to-be six-time All-Star, was out with a bruised right kneecap. And Bledsoe looked and sounded prepared.

He had the same unassuming smile. The same grin where he curls the right side of his mouth a little higher than the left. And the same answer when asked about his game.

“I just have to bring the energy and play my game,” he reminded reporters.

About six hours later that’s precisely what Bledsoe did. He started and scored 14 points with four assists, three rebounds and two steals, helping the Clippers to a 99-73 road win.

He added a chase down block of Tony Allen. Those plays have become requisite for the ultra-athletic guard; the ones where he stalks the opposing ball-handler before pouncing on their layup and pinning it against backboard.

The poise Bledsoe displayed against Memphis, though, not nearly as much. He played 28 minutes and did not commit a turnover, marking just the third time in Bledsoe’s career he’s exceeded 28 minutes without a single miscue.

“I thought [Bledsoe] controlled the pace of the game well,” Clippers head coach Vinny Del Negro said. “He moved the ball and made good things happen tonight.”

 “I thought he did great,” Jamal Crawford said. “He’s done a good job, I think, learning from C.P. (Paul) and learning from Chauncey [Billups]. He knows how to pick his spots, when to push it, when to be in control.”

He played with restraint throughout the night but never allowed it to hamper his aggressiveness. Perhaps, the play that best defined Bledsoe’s outing was not when he skied for an offensive rebound between two Grizzlies big men or tipped away pass after pass on the defensive end, but late in the game with the Clippers ahead by two dozen he passed up a fast-break opportunity to take on two defenders, instead electing to pull the ball out and set up the offense.

“I just stayed aggressive and tried to pace myself when I was playing,” said Bledsoe. “Sometimes if I get too aggressive, I get real winded. Chris, Chauncey and Jamal did a great job of telling me just pace yourself while you’re playing.”

Asked how he felt afterwards, Bledsoe cracked his usual smile. “I feel great.”