In the past four or five games, Chris Paul has been just… good.
For some players, being that is enough. Role players do just enough to help their teams win and All-Stars carry the weight. But for a superstar like Paul, being just ‘good’ simply isn’t enough. And tonight, he showed the extra gear that separates him from the others.
With four combined points in quarters on through three, Paul looked as he had in the previous seven games minus the last meeting against the Minnesota Timberwolves, keeping his teammates afloat instead of putting the foot on the throat of the enemy himself. Sixteen points later we were reminded why the popular consensus around Paul is that he’s the best point guard in the NBA. Finishing the night with 20 points and 11 assists, Paul became the first player in NBA history to post a double-double in 12 straight games, one-upping Magic Johnson‘s record of 11.
This game played out how most thought it would, but with a slight twist. It was competitive, though the point total was lower than expected. And the marquee matchup that we all get up for when these two teams meet? Well it was an extremely one-sided affair.
While Blake Griffin posted his fifth consecutive 20-point, 10-rebound game (he literally had 20 points and 10 rebounds alongside 2 blocks, assists and steals), Kevin Love, the consensus pick for best power forward in the league, struggled shooting 2 for 14 on his way to a 10 points night. He made up for it with his efforts in other places grabbing a game-high 12 rebounds and 8 assists. Starting the season off on a MVP-worthy streak, Love finally came back down to earth. He and Blake have played each other evenly in the past, but Griffin won the battle tonight.
Attempting to carry the offense amidst Love’s struggles, Nikola Pekovic, Kevin Martin and Corey Brewer combined for 65 points and 24 rebounds. It’ll be swept under the rug due to Chris Paul’s fourth quarter dominance, but Martin went toe-to-toe with CP, scoring 15 points in the fourth, but it just wasn’t enough to topple the team effort from the Clippers.
The starters carried this team while the bench was flat throughout the night, with Dante Cunningham and Robbie Hummel hitting all five of the baskets scored by the unit. Former number two overall pick Derrick Williams continued his season struggles going 0-for-4 for four points.
For the Clippers, it was the usual suspects making their presence known on the floor plus one. The shooting guard combination of J.J. Redick and Jamal Crawford came together for 31 points and the semi-struggling Jared Dudley added 11 points. And in the absence of Matt Barnes (left eye contusion), rookie Reggie Bullock had his best game of the season scoring 6 points in 12 minutes of play. He’s lived up to his collegiate reputation as a 3-and-D player and has worked his way above Willie Green in the rotation. Expect to see more of him against the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Since their loss to the Miami Heat, Los Angeles has gone 6-1 over a tough seven game stretch, the lone loss coming against the Memphis Grizzlies. Over that time period, the Clippers have posted a defensive rating 102.2, three points lower than their season average. This is the improvement Doc Rivers has spoken on as the group is meshing on that side of the ball. The team still struggles with guard penetration and defending when particular starters are off the floor, but it’s all getting better. Even Ryan Hollins has looked more and more like an NBA player with each day.
Though the T’Wolves were playing on the second night of a back to back, this is another good win for the Clippers. With Blake Griffin playing the way he is and Chris Paul finding his jumper (someone needs to put out an APB until it’s officially found), this group could take advantage of a soft schedule coming up (Thunder, Kings, Bulls, Knicks) in their fight for the best record in the Western Conference.
Next game: vs. Oklahoma City Thunder.