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Thursday, May 17, 2012
No Paul, no competition from Clippers

By Pedro Moura



The Los Angeles Clippers are going to get swept by the San Antonio Spurs if Chris Paul keeps playing the way he has so far this series.

That’s the truth of the matter.

The Clippers got improved play from Blake Griffin in Game 2 on Thursday night and have received continued productive play from a few of their role players against the Spurs, but it hasn’t been nearly enough.

San Antonio is too good, too complete a team. And the Clippers are too flawed, especially without a full-strength Paul in their arsenal.

The question that will determine how soon their season ends, then, is whether it’s possible Paul can be at full strength by Saturday afternoon’s Game 3 in Los Angeles. He’s still being bothered by the strained right hip flexor he suffered in Game 5 of the Clippers’ first-round series against the Memphis Grizzlies.

Spurs guard Tony Parker said in his postgame news conference Thursday that he and his teammates expect a better Paul in L.A.

“I’m sure he’s going to come back stronger in Game 3,” Parker said. “I’m sure he’s going to bounce back.”

But Parker didn’t sound too worried. He was laughing, smiling and joking with reporters in San Antonio postgame.

And why should he be? The Spurs have handled the Clippers with such ease this week. It’s reasonable to think it’ll get harder as the series moves to the West Coast and goes back-to-back Saturday and Sunday, but not so much harder that the Spurs will suddenly be in a bad position.

Parker also went over the Spurs’ strategy on Paul for this series -- well, he went over it quickly and succinctly.

“It's everybody focused on Chris,” Parker said. “Making sure he doesn't get going.”

That sounds about right. NBA teams have been keying in on Paul as a Clipper since December, but nobody’s done it with as much consistent success as the Spurs.

In the four games Paul has played against the Spurs with Parker this season, he’s shot 16-of-51 (31 percent) from the floor and averaged fewer than 12 points.

It’s gotten even worse this series, with Paul producing nearly as many turnovers (13) as points (16). And he’s had a plus/minus of minus-40 in the 72 minutes he’s been on the court this series, the second-worst of any player on either team, behind only Caron Butler. By comparison, Paul’s backup, 22-year-old Eric Bledsoe, has been plus-2 in his 50 on-court minutes.

Now, it’s not entirely fair to contrast those numbers directly. Bledsoe has been on the court with some of the more efficient Clippers and has benefited from matching up with the Spurs’ reserves.

Still -- it’s telling.

Not only has Paul not been his typical great self for the Clippers this series, but he’s actually been harming the team with his play. It’s not a stretch to say the Clippers could have been better off in each game had he sat out. That's not to predict the outcome of the games would have been any different, however.

If we can say the Clippers might be better without Paul after this weekend, their season likely will already be over.