Chris Paul has caught all types of flak over the years. Despite being the shortest player on the court most of the time, Paul is held to an outrageous standard that most people in the history of the NBA fall well short of. They say he whines too much to the refs, he flops and is an all-around dirty player. They say he doesn’t deserve to be placed in the pantheon of superstars in the modern game and is but a paper-thin facsimile of Isiah Thomas, John Stockton and other little generals that roamed the 94-foot span of the basketball court in years past.
What I cram to understand is how someone who is averaging 19 points and 10 assists for a career can be so thoroughly disrespected on a regular basis. Back in 2014, Paul missed 18 regular season games due to injury. A cursory Google search will uncover numerous articles from the time that allude to Paul being expendable, and saying that Blake Griffin was indeed the only Clipper that was untouchable.
But irony isn’t some alchemistic endeavor. Two years later and I can’t help but notice the irony circulating around the Clippers point guard’s current situation. Blake Griffin has missed 32 games due to a quadriceps injury, a fractured hand and a pending four-game suspension because of the manner in which he fractured his hand. In Griffin's absence, CP3 has once again proved why he is one of the NBA's all-time dominant floor generals.
I think it goes without saying that most teams who lose an All-Star who was averaging 23 points, 8 rebounds and 5 assists per game, could pretty much be chalked up for a high draft pick. But not the Clips, at least not this year. The Clippers are 23-8 since Griffin's departure.
Most of the credit for the team's success has to go to head coach and GM Doc Rivers.
Rivers has gone the route of several other NBA teams by incorporating a small ball line up which naturally quickens the overall pace of the game. The smaller lineup has resulted in the Clippers being able to swarm and trap the ball in the corners more effectively than with a more traditional lineup in which Blake would be the power forward.
Forward Josh Smith and G/F Lance Stephenson have both been shipped out of town as being ill-suited for La La Land. A stubborn GM would have stuck with these two, but Doc saw the writing on the wall when the duo was spotted slap-boxing on the sidelines of a game.
Furthermore, the addition of SF Jeff Green might be the acquisition of the year on the low. Green, who played his best basketball under Rivers in Boston, is versatile enough to play small forward or power forward and doesn’t mind coming off the bench at all. Averaging a career high in blocks this season, Green has been known to lock in when a teammate lights a fire under him.
As of late, Paul has been that fire starter.
Since Blake’s unfortunate and boneheaded debacle, Los Angeles has enjoyed a 10-game winning streak that ran into mid-January. So, after giving props to the head coach and GM, and to the team’s other key components for stepping up their games, most notably DeAndre Jordan and J.J. Reddick, at some point even the most ardent naysayers have to give Chris Paul his just due, right?
One would think so.
The Clippers are holding on to the fourth spot in the Western Conference. After facing off against the San Antonio Spurs in the First Round of the NBA Playoffs last year, the Clips are aware of how important it is to finish strong and secure a home court advantage.
Last year the NBA media was rife with “insider” claims of dissension between Paul and Griffin, with some claiming Paul was done in Los Angeles. This year it’s completely the opposite. Some of the same writers who would have had Paul shipped out of town have now turned on Griffin as being expendable. However, Paul being the leader he is, stepped up and spoke up for Blake when a reporter seemingly tried to bait him into saying Griffin wasn’t necessary due to his own increased production.
We can’t win a championship without Blake. That’s the only reason we play.” he told NBA.com. “I don’t care if he gets back the day before the playoffs. We’re playing for a championship and there’s no championship without Blake Griffin. There’s not one.”
Griffin was supposed to have been back a month ago yet is still in the ether. Although the Clippers recently lost to the OKC Thunder, Westbrook and Durant’s crew have been faltering a bit as of late-losing 7 of their last 13 games after reeling off five straight. The Thunder remain tantalizingly close enough for the Clippers to be able to surge past them once Griffin returns.
Statistically, Chris Paul’s 20 points and 10 assists are among his very best numbers of his career and Doc Rivers’ in-game adjustments and willingness to play to the strengths of his players might make him a Coach of the Year candidate as well. All-and-all, the only way Blake Griffin’s return screws this up is if he goes upside the head of another equipment manager.