BOSTON -- In one corner of the visiting locker room at TD Garden, Chris Paul was sitting at DeAndre Jordan’s locker, sitting side-by-side with the Los Angeles Clippers’ starting center, breaking down game film on his laptop.
Paul and Billups have embraced their roles as assistant coaches during their time away from the court, but the longer they are out, the more evident it is becoming how average the Clippers are without them on the floor.
After losing to the Boston Celtics 106-104 on Sunday, the Clippers have now lost six of their past eight games since Paul re-injured his bruised right kneecap in a loss to Golden State on Jan. 21. Since then, he has missed seven games and the Clippers have gone 2-5 in his absence. Billups has missed all but three games this season with peroneal tendonitis in his left foot. Before he was injured last season, he was viewed as a major reason the Clippers were considered a viable contender.
When Paul was first sidelined with his bruised right kneecap, the Clippers went 3-0 on the road in his absence, beating Memphis, Houston and Minnesota by an average of 14.6 points. This time around they look like a .500 team at best without him -- which is now their record (5-5) when Paul is out.
“That’s the way we’ve played so far,” Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro said. “It depends on scheduling and a lot goes into that but I have a lot of confidence in our guys. We just have to learn with this new team right now how to be more efficient for longer stretches and how to be able to close games out in the fourth quarter.”
As much as Paul and Billups may have helped the Clippers win some games from the sideline in the short term, the fact is, their message is simply getting lost the longer they’re out.
“When you have that suit and tie on, it's not the same,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. “Players don't listen to guys in suit and ties; let me tell you, I know that from experience.”
Although the Clippers hope to get Paul and Billups back at some point during their road trip, Del Negro could learn a thing or two from Rivers on how to make up for the loss of your starting point guard. The Celtics have won four games in a row since losing Rajon Rondo for the season and have improved their defense, as well.
That has been the biggest problem for the Clippers without Paul. Their once-stingy defense has given up 204 points over the past two games. In fact, they have given up more than 100 points in four of their past eight games, which is well above their season average of 93.4 points.
“Effort,” Matt Barnes said when asked to pinpoint what has been ailing the Clippers’ defense. “We are all capable of playing defense. We’ve done it before. I just think we have to do it more consistently. We have to be on the same page, we have to trust each other. We have to know our rotations and if someone gets beat we have to have that person’s back and I think we’ve just been a step slow lately.”
It also doesn’t help when Barnes fails to record a single point, going 0-for-6 from the field. The Clippers’ once-vaunted bench was outscored 52-29 by the Celtics as the Clippers got 23 points from Jamal Crawford and just six more from Lamar Odom. No one else on the Clippers’ bench scored as Barnes, Grant Hill and Ronny Turiaf combined to go 0-for-9.
“We’re just a little out of rhythm,” Barnes said. “Obviously, we were a strong unit. When we had Bled as our point but now mixing Jamal into the point and Grant into the point, guys are just playing a little out of position, but that’s no excuse. We’ve got to continue to find ways to win and even when we aren’t scoring we’ve got to continue to be able to play defense.”
Paul and Billups had long since left the Garden by the time Griffin exited -- the last person to leave the visiting locker room. He had just finished watching a few keys plays on his iPad before getting dressed, shaking his head at a few key plays that could have been the difference late in the game.
“The way we played down the stretch was promising," Griffin said. "That's the kind of intensity we were playing with in December when we were going on the road and winning games and at home. That's the kind of intensity we need to have to win games, especially on the road in a tough environment against a good team."