Sunday, April 21, 2013
'Three-headed monster' keys Clippers victory
By Peter Yoon
LOS ANGELES -- The Los Angeles Clippers aren't the first team to employ a three-guard lineup, but you’d be hard-pressed to find another quite like the one they used Saturday night.
The Clippers used three point guards at the same time and the lineup was instrumental in putting away the Memphis Grizzlies in Game 1 of their Western Conference first-round playoff series at Staples Center.
Chauncey Billups and Chris Paul are only two-thirds of the Clippers trio of guards who played together down the stretch Saturday. Eric Bledsoe is the third.
The Clippers won in a 112-91 rout, but it was a one-point game with 10:11 to play before Eric Bledsoe took over with 13 of his 15 points coming in the final 10 minutes. Chris Paul and Chauncey Billups started the final quarter on the bench and returned with the Clippers leading, 90-79, and that's when the game got out of hand.
"It gives you almost like a three-headed monster," said Paul, who scored five of his game-high 23 points in the final five minutes. "It just gave us some versatility. They didn't know who to guard. I think it was just something different and it worked for us tonight."
This is not a lineup that has been on the floor together much this season, and it turned into a bit of a secret weapon against a familiar opponent in Memphis. The teams played a tight, seven-game playoff series last season, but Billups was out injured. This season, Billups played only one of the four games between the teams, and Bledsoe missed that game.
Paul also missed a game against Memphis this season, so this was definitely the first time the Grizzlies had seen the lineup in person. After watching a close game turn into a rout with those three on the court at the same time, the Grizzlies can only hope it's the last time they see the lineup.
"I guess Coach had a great feeling about that lineup and wanted to stick with that," Bledsoe said. "I think we did a great job with him having that confidence in us."
All three can shoot, and they did it well Saturday. Bledsoe was a scorching 7-for-7 from the field. Paul made 7 of 11 shots and Billups made 4-of-8 for 14 points. Paul and Billups combined for five 3-point baskets in eight attempts.
Their shooting abilities are enough of a concern, but add in the fact that Paul and Billups have been All-Star point guards on multiple occasions, and Bledsoe -- in his third season -- is a rising star, and the lineup can cause headaches for opponents.
"We've got three guys that can make plays," Billups said. "We've got Bledsoe, who is playing great. Nobody can stick with him because he's so fast. He's doing a good job about being fast and making the right plays. It's just a tough lineup. We can all defend as well, so it's a tough lineup."
Bledsoe has been coming into his own of late. You might say he's carving out a niche as the team's closer. He has been running the point during the fourth quarter for much of the past couple of weeks, and it has allowed Paul -- the team's regular point guard -- to play more off the ball.
"It helps a lot," Bledsoe said. "It definitely helps Chris getting the ball out of his hands and lets him make plays basically as a two-guard. Everybody is focusing on him so we can have swing-swing and play both sides of the court."
Bledsoe hasn't been playing much early in games but has thrived coming in at crunch time because he remains fresh. That, in turn, enables his extreme speed and quickness to become even more of an advantage. Saturday, he played only 6:19 in the first three quarters combined but played all 12 minutes in the fourth.
"Bled is that blur," Paul said. "He runs probably faster than me and Chauncey put together. Me and Chauncey have a little more craft and things like that."
He's also the catalyst, Paul said, for a bench that is among the best in the NBA this season.
"He's the guy that leads that ship," Paul said. "He's the guy that's a game-changer. When he's playing with that aggressive mentality at both ends of the court, we're tough to beat."
That's something the Grizzlies found out on Saturday.