Rapid Reaction: Clippers 96, Blazers 83
January, 27, 2013
By Arash Markazi | ESPNLosAngeles.com
LOS ANGELES -- The Los Angeles Clippers knew things would not be easy without Chris Paul and Chauncey Billups.
The beauty of a backcourt like that is the ability of Billups, a five-time All-Star and former NBA Finals MVP, to simply slide over and play point guard if anything happened to Paul. Of course, when both Paul and Billups are out things get a little trickier. Suddenly, Eric Bledsoe is the starting point guard and the Clippers have to lean on Jamal Crawford or Grant Hill to bring the ball up the court with the second unit.
That led to four straight losses for the Clippers, who were tied for the best record in the NBA at the midway point of the season (32-9) before their losing streak.
The Clippers finally put an end to the streak Sunday night with a 96-83 win over the Portland Trail Blazers. With Oklahoma City's loss earlier in the day, the Clippers are just 1.5 games behind the Thunder.
Here are three takeaways from the game:
Blake Griffin has certainly stepped up in the absence of Paul. One night after posting 24 points and 10 assists at Portland, Griffin responded with 23 points and nine assists against the Blazers in L.A. Griffin finished just one assist shy of becoming the first power forward to post back-to-back 20-point and 10-assist games since Chris Webber in 2005, according to Basketball Reference. Griffin has also improved his free-throw shooting, hitting 9 of 11 over the last two games. Griffin has had to become more of a leader in the absence of Paul, a role he's not particularly comfortable with but one that has slowly grown on him over the past week.
The Clippers' bench has usually been able to rely on a big scoring night from either Crawford or Matt Barnes. On a night when the Clippers led by as many as 19 points in the fourth quarter, they just needed solid nights from their two best bench players. Crawford finished with nine points and five assists while Barnes had seven points and four rebounds. The key was the Clippers were able to get contributions from Lamar Odom (eight points, 13 rebounds), Grant Hill (six points, two assists) and Ronny Turiaf (six points, two rebounds).
As much as the Clippers miss Paul and Billups, it doesn't look as if they will be getting either one back soon. Paul is certainly expected back before Billups, but Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro did not have a timetable for either player's return when asked pregame. That means that Bledsoe must continue to develop as a starting point guard and Willie Green must continue to give them more than he previously had as a starter. On Sunday, Bledsoe finished with 10 points, five rebounds and five assists while Green had seven points, one rebound and no assists. The Clippers will obviously need more from them on a consistent basis without Paul and Billups but as long as Griffin is averaging around 23 points and nine assists, the Clippers should be fine.