As CP3 goes, so do the Clippers
March, 7, 2012
By Devin Kharpertian | ESPNLosAngeles.com
Two years ago, fans in New Orleans and Utah hotly debated the best point guard in the NBA. Despite a change in scenery, the parallels between Chris Paul and Deron Williams remain.
Like Williams, Paul is the unquestioned leader of the Clippers. During time-outs, Vinny Del Negro defers to his star point guard more often than not, and when Paul can't control the chatter, the meeting turns to chaos.
On the floor, the Clippers' rhythm relies exclusively on Paul. They don't run much of an offense from the coaching perspective; most Clippers plays exist from Paul's improvisation. He calls the screens, he slices the lane, he decides when Blake Griffin posts up or Randy Foye gets an open look.
"Being on the ball, it's my job to find guys. I have to pick my spots for when I can be a scorer," Paul said after the game. "I try to make sure I don't have the ball too much, making sure I'm getting everyone involved and everybody's happy."
Paul lacks his pre-knee surgery explosiveness, but his mind is as sharp as ever. When things go well, they go really well; Paul is perhaps the best point guard in the league at picking the right moments to exert his body, and few point guards are as adept at setting up their teammates for open shots.
But in a close, physical game, surrounded by players more known for their athletic wizardry than cerebral dexterity, the mind can only accomplish so much.
After a quiet first quarter -- Paul picked up just one field goal attempt before leaving with two fouls at the 3:30 mark -- Paul began attacking more and more as the game progressed. When Paul slashes to the basket, he's normally looking for a quick defensive switch to hit one of his two hyper-athletic big men, or secure an open look for himself. But when facing the Nets' strategy of packing the paint, more often than not Paul was forced to create open shots for Foye or Caron Butler -- not necessarily terrible options, but not particularly solid ones; they're last resorts for an offense that doesn't need to rely on them.
Butler's disappearance has been particularly curious. The Clippers signed him to a three-year, $24 million contract in December, hoping that he'd fill the missing scoring piece on the wings left by Eric Gordon's departure. Turns out, he's just been missing -- after a solid start, Butler's shot just 36% from the field since the beginning of February. He was just 1-6 in limited action tonight.
Even with the injuries New Jersey's faced this year, that's not a problem Williams feels. "He's got a lot of shooters around him," said Paul.
The game's final moments are a testament to that; as Paul looked on from the floor, with his secondary point guard Chauncey Billups noticeably absent from the arena, D-Will kicked the ball to an open Jordan Farmar -- his own Billups -- for the game-winner.