Los Angeles Clippers: Chris Paul

Possible Clippers free-agent targets

July, 2, 2014
Paul Pierce Jim McIsaac/Getty ImagesPaul Pierce could take some of the pressure off Chris Paul late in games, but how much does the veteran have left?
The free-agent frenzy has officially begun. The Los Angeles Clippers have already been linked to a couple players in just over 24 hours, and the rumor mill is only going to pick up until free agents can formally sign new contracts on July 10.

Heading into the offseason, the Clippers have eight players under guaranteed contracts: Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan, J.J. Redick, Jamal Crawford, Jared Dudley, Matt Barnes and Reggie Bullock. That equates to roughly $70.3 million in salary, which doesn't include rookie C.J. Wilcox's impending contract (projected $1 million per year) or any cap holds, and is just less than $7 million under the projected luxury tax threshold of $77 million.

With Darren Collison, Danny Granger, Glen Davis, Hedo Turkoglu and Ryan Hollins entering free agency, the Clippers have a few glaring needs. The roster lacks a skilled third big man, which has been an issue since Paul arrived in 2011, and despite the wing depth, there aren't enough quality perimeter defenders or consistent shooters.

Doc Rivers has stated that re-signing Collison is the team's top priority, but that might not be realistic. Unless Collison is willing to accept a marginal pay raise to between $2.5 to $3 million (unlikely), Los Angeles will likely have to address its other weaknesses first and could ultimately seek out a cheaper replacement.

Assuming the Clippers don't miraculously clear cap space or pull off a sign-and-trade for LeBron James and/or Carmelo Anthony, they don't have much leeway to make significant additions. They will only have the mid-level exception ($5.3 million per year) and the bi-annual exception ($2 million) at their disposal, as well as veteran minimum contracts ($1.2 million to $1.4 million).

The ideal scenario appears to be splitting the midlevel exception between two players (preferably a third big man and a 3-and-D wing), signing another player with the biannual exception (a replacement point guard), and then filling out the rest of the roster with minimum guys.

Here are some players the Clippers should target:

Third big men

Jordan Hill | F/C | UFA | PER: 19.39

[+] EnlargeJordan Hill
Gary A. Vasquez/USA TODAY SportsJordan Hill's toughness would be a welcome addition to the Clippers' bench.
Hill was underused in Mike D'Antoni's system, and he would seamlessly fit in as an elite rebounder (19.0 rebound rate) and a solid midrange shooter (42.7 percent) and pick-and-roll finisher. He has a high motor and provides athleticism and interior toughness that last year's bench lacked. There are questions about his shot selection and defensive consistency, but he's intriguing.

Ed Davis | F/C | UFA | PER: 15.99

The market for Davis' services is unclear, but similar to Hill, he has shown flashes of talent despite inconsistent playing time. Davis' length, energy and athleticism make him a dynamic rebounder and rim-protector (opponents shot just 43.3 percent at the rim against him). Although the southpaw's offensive game is limited to cutting, screening and finishing around the rim, he has high upside and is worth a gamble.

Josh McRoberts | F/C | UFA | PER: 13.82

McRoberts is one of the game's best passing bigs and projects as the point forward the Clippers have long sought after (he averaged 5.1 assists per 36 minutes this season). He won't protect the rim or rebound as well as Rivers would like, but he's an adequate spot-up shooter with 3-point range (he made 105 3s on 36.1 percent shooting), and he has the mobility and versatility to play alongside Jordan or Griffin.

Honorable mentions: Chris Andersen, Emeka Okafor, Ekpe Udoh

On the outside looking in: Boris Diaw, Channing Frye, Spencer Hawes

3-and-D wings

Paul Pierce | F | UFA | PER: 16.81

Pierce's desire to play in his hometown and reconnect with Rivers is well-known, but more importantly, he can actually help out. He would take some of the crunch-time burden off Paul's shoulders and can create mismatches against plodding bigs in small-ball lineups. The question is, how much does he have left? Depending on his willingness to take a pay cut, Pierce could be a bargain. But if he wants the full midlevel exception or in that ballpark, the Clippers should pass.

Shawn Marion | F | UFA | PER: 13.78

A versatile defender, rebounder and off-ball threat, Marion has lost a step or two recently yet remains a capable two-way player. He isn't the type of shooter the Clippers covet (career 33.2 percent on 3s), but he's an upgrade defensively with the ability to contain 1 through 4. Marion won't create for himself, but he can still be effective picking up scraps off cuts and offensive rebounds. He's an ideal small-ball big.

Vince Carter | G/F | UFA | PER: 15.97

[+] EnlargeVince Carter
Kevin Jairaj/USA TODAY SportsThe explosiveness is gone, but Vince Carter is still an effective shooter.
He can't jump out of the gym anymore, but Carter has developed a wily offensive game that is just as efficient. There isn't a better realistic offensive option; Carter is a dangerous spot-up shooter (40.6 percent on spot-up 3s), shot creator and passer. Add in the fact that he's a competent defender (+2.45 defensive RPM), an above-average rebounder and has transitioned to small forward over the past three seasons, and he makes sense.

Thabo Sefolosha | G/F | UFA | PER: 10.42

Sefolosha's long-range shooting took a nosedive this season (31.6 percent), which makes him a perfect buy-low candidate. With quick feet and a 7-2 wingspan, he has the ability to defend any perimeter player, and is notably adept at hounding elite point guards. If he can regain his shooting stroke from two years ago (he shot over 40 percent in back to back seasons), or at least come close, he's a steal.

Honorable mentions: P.J. Tucker, C.J. Miles, Jordan Hamilton, Al-Farouq Aminu

On the outside looking in: Luol Deng, Trevor Ariza

Backup point guards

Ramon Sessions | G | UFA | PER: 16.04

[+] EnlargeRamon Sessions
Gary Dineen/NBAE/Getty ImagesRamon Sessions has a penchant for getting to the free throw line.
Though nowhere near as quick as Collison, Sessions is similar in that his game is predicated on breaking defenses down and getting to the rim. The difference is that Sessions gets to the line almost twice as often (6.7 FTAs per 36 minutes compared to Collison's 3.9) and is a better distributor. On balance, he's a minus defender and a non-threat from deep (28.2 percent), which limits his value.

Delonte West | G | UFA | PER: 15.35 (2011-12 season)

West earned a spot on the Clippers' summer league roster, so he has a built-in advantage. At the same time, he hasn't played in the NBA in two years, and will always be a wild card because of offcourt struggles. Still, he's arguably the most talented cheap option available and has already played for Rivers. He's worth a shot if he can shake off his rust and recover his 3-and-D potential.

Kirk Hinrich | G | UFA | PER: 10.80

Hinrich has quietly become less of an offensive threat, with his shooting percentages (especially from deep) continually dropping since 2010. He's adapted as well as possible, though. He won't make poor decisions and brings toughness defensively -- he registered the eighth-best defensive RPM (+0.99) among point guards and defends both backcourt positions adequately. Hinrich isn't a flashy signing, but he's serviceable.

Honorable mentions: Beno Udrih, Steve Blake, Luke Ridnour, Jerryd Bayless

On the outside looking in: Greivis Vasquez, Jameer Nelson, Mario Chalmers

Stats used in this post were provided by ESPN.com, NBA.com/Stats, 82games.com, MySynergySports.com and Basketball-Reference.com. Salary cap information provided by ShamSports.com.

Uphill battle in hunt for LeBron

June, 24, 2014
LOS ANGELES -- If it's truly not about the money and LeBron James wants to come to Los Angeles and join the Clippers and forge a new "Big Three" with Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, it can happen. If money means something to him, well, it might be hard for him to have a Hollywood ending to this offseason.

The Clippers' current salary is slated to be $73,660,731 if Glen Davis, Darren Collison and Danny Granger opt out, as ESPNLosAngeles.com reported they will. That figure also includes their first-round draft pick (No. 28) and empty roster charges.

[+] EnlargeJames/Griffin
Steve Mitchell/USA TODAY SportsLeBron James would need to take a large pay cut to join Blake Griffin in Los Angeles with the Clippers.
Obviously the Clippers are not in a position to offer anyone anywhere near a max contract currently, so I asked resident cap guru Larry Coon if the Clippers could get in position to make a run at James if they did what my colleague Bill Simmons suggested in a tweet last week -- trade DeAndre Jordan and Jamal Crawford to teams with cap space, and package Jared Dudley and L.A.'s first-round pick to create more cap space.

"Let's say they dump Jordan, Crawford and Dudley, and also get rid of the No. 28 pick while they're at it," Coon said. "They'd then be at $53,625,152. This assumes that all assets are dumped for future considerations only, with no salary coming back to the Clippers. The team would need to get down to $42,540,368 to make LeBron a max offer. They're over $11 million short."

So there's no chance?

"If they also dump Reggie Bullock and Matt Barnes for nothing, they will get down to $50,042,854," Coon said. "That's still about $8 million short. So there's still no way. This also presumes the Clippers will be able to dump five players with no salary coming back, which is a pretty tall order."

So let's review: If the Clippers somehow found a way to trade Jordan, Crawford, Dudley, Barnes, Bullock and their first-round pick to teams with cap space and acquired no salary back, they'd still be $8 million short of offering James a max deal. Oh, and they'd also have only four players under contract.

The only realistic path to the Clippers for James would be a trade in which the Clippers sent Griffin to Miami. Griffin had always been considered "untouchable" when Donald Sterling was the owner, and that stance has not changed with Doc Rivers in charge of basketball operations, according to a report by ESPN.com's Ramona Shelburne on Tuesday.

Even if the Clippers completed a sign-and-trade that sent Griffin to Miami for James after he re-signed to a maximum deal, Coon said the Clippers' cap would be about $74 million and hard-capped at about $81 million, leaving just $7 million to fill out the rest of the roster. That's essentially $7 million for about six players, including their draft pick.

If James is dead-set on getting a max deal or anywhere near a max deal, the chances of him coming to Los Angeles to play with the Clippers seem remote at best. But if he's willing to take a big pay cut to join Paul, Griffin and Rivers in Hollywood, well, there's a chance.

Paul distraught as clock expires on Clips

May, 16, 2014
Chris PaulAndrew D. Bernstein/NBAE/Getty Images)"You don't get a chance to be on teams like this that often, you know," Chris Paul said.

LOS ANGELES -- Chris Paul was able to look around the room this time.

The blank stare that had come over his face after his nightmarish final seconds in Game 5 had been replaced by the angry glare that comes with an early vacation he has become all too familiar with in his nine seasons in the NBA.

As Paul faces a long offseason with more questions than he cares to answer about the team to which he has committed at least the next three years of his career, he will enter his 10th season in the league having never made it past the second round of the playoffs after the Los Angeles Clippers were eliminated by the Oklahoma City Thunder 104-98 in Thursday’s Game 6 of the Western Conference semifinals.

Paul took the loss particularly hard. He blamed himself for the team’s collapse in Game 5 after two crucial turnovers and a foul helped give the Thunder an improbable comeback victory. He also put the blame on his shoulders for the Clippers’ inability to hold a 16-point first-half lead in an elimination game at home.

He tried his best to hold back tears as he said goodbye to his teammates for the last time this season in the locker room. Paul has been around long enough to know he can’t take playing on teams this talented, and for a coach like Doc Rivers, for granted. This was his best shot at winning a title, or at least getting to his first conference final, and it ended at the same stop it had in the past.

“It's tough,” Paul said. “You don't get a chance to be on teams like this that often, you know. Oklahoma City absolutely deserves it. We had a really, really good team, a great team. Before the game, Doc talked about it. I told somebody at halftime: It's crazy -- you play all season long, and the last few games we really started to figure out who our team was and how to play. And it's crazy that it's over. Man, we really do have a great team, a collective group of players. It's tough to realize that it's over again.”

The sting of this loss, however, was compounded by more off-the-court drama than any one team should ever have to deal with. It began three weeks ago when TMZ released a racist rant by Donald Sterling, which led to the league to ban the Clippers owner for life and begin the process of forcing him to sell the team.

It’s a story that continues to grow and change every day, completely overshadowing the greatest season in Clippers history and muddying the waters of what could be a bright future.

It’s a harsh reality that Paul wasn’t ready or willing to face in the immediate aftermath of Thursday’s loss.

[+] EnlargeMatt Barnes and Kevin Durant
AP Photo/Jae C. HongKevin Durant's fingerprints were all over the Game 6 win, including this block on Matt Barnes.
“To tell you the truth, we don’t think about that,” Paul said. “The least of our worries is him. We just lost the damn series. I’m sorry, but we don’t care about that. That’s the last thing on our minds. We give him too much attention as it is.”

Paul’s teammates consoled him on the bus ride to the airport after Tuesday’s loss and called him and texted him after the team got back to Los Angeles. Paul is the leader of the team, but his fellow Clippers could tell that he was in need of something more than a pat on the back after what he called the worst loss of his basketball career.

“It’s probably the toughest thing basketball-wise that I’ve ever been through,” said Paul, who had 25 points and 11 assists Thursday. “I don’t know. It felt like the only way I could get it out of my mind was to play again. I got a great group of teammates that texted me all night last night and yesterday -- and it’s going to hurt for a while because we should have been here up 3-2 with a chance to close it out. It’s a long summer, I can tell you that much.”

Despite being regarded as the best point guard in basketball and one of the top five players in the league, Paul has mostly gotten a pass when it comes to his postseason résumé. While it appears to be championship-or-bust for the likes of LeBron James and Kevin Durant, Paul has been able to distinguish himself as one of the game’s greats despite never making it past the second round.

That was largely because he never had a championship coach or a championship supporting cast worthy of going further than he took them. That all changed this season, and so will the criticism that will come his way after this loss. He has a championship coach in Rivers. He has a supporting cast that includes Blake Griffin, who finished third in this season's MVP voting, DeAndre Jordan, who finished third in defensive player of the year voting, and Jamal Crawford, who won sixth man of the year.

Paul will turn 30 next year and fully realizes that talking about growth after an early exit in the playoffs is no longer acceptable.

“I'm going to prepare every offseason like I always do,” Paul said. “This ain't tennis. It ain't just me. We don't play one-on-one. It's not just to get out of the second round, it's to win a championship. I don't know anybody in our league that plays for the finals, for the Western Conference finals. That's not enough.”

Rivers wasn’t ready to talk about Paul’s legacy after the game, focusing on this as Paul’s first missed opportunity at a title but certainly not his last chance.

“It's just this time, as far as I'm concerned,” Rivers said. “I don't look at it as another time for them. We got out of the first round, advanced. We had a chance in this series, clearly. I just feel awful for him. Just point-blank, I do. He's the spirit of our team. Right now his spirit is broken. He's going to have all summer to work and get ready for next year, but he'll be back. He'll be ready. He'll be better next year.”

Rivers believes the Clippers finally found themselves at the end of a roller-coaster season that played out like a dysfunctional reality show on national television the past three weeks.

“I think we started coming together, but time ran out,” Rivers said. “I was around Coach K [Mike Krzyzewski] a lot and Duke basketball. You know exactly what Duke basketball is because he's been there forever. Early in the year, I heard 'Clipper basketball,' I was like, ‘What the hell is that?’ We're trying to figure out what that is. I thought during this playoff series, we started figuring out exactly like what Clipper basketball is and will be. I just kept thinking, ‘Man, if we can get through a couple more games, we're there.’ You can feel it. And time ran out. That's the tough part.”

Time ran out on the Clippers’ season late Thursday night, but if they can survive what is sure to be an eventful offseason, at least off the court, perhaps they will finally be able to showcase what Clippers basketball is, and will be, on the court.

Rapid Reaction: Thunder 104, Clippers 98

May, 15, 2014

LOS ANGELES -- Doc Rivers was beside himself after the Clippers’ Game 5 loss. He said the referees "robbed" the Clippers of the game and that awarding the ball to the Oklahoma City Thunder toward the end of the game on a controversial replay was a "series-defining" call.

It ended up being just that.

On Thursday night, the Thunder closed out the Clippers 104-98 to advance to the Western Conference finals, in which they will meet the San Antonio Spurs.

The Clippers were in control for much of the game, going up by 16 in the first half and 11 in the third quarter before the Thunder took their biggest lead of the game late in the fourth quarter. OKC was able to fend the Clippers off for the win, putting an end to the season for L.A.

How it happened: The question coming into Game 6 was how the Clippers would respond to the Game 5 loss. They answered much of any doubts early, taking a 14-point lead in the first quarter and a 16-point lead before halftime. They controlled the pace and tempo of the game and basically did what they wanted to do offensively. The Clippers led by as many as 11 points in the third quarter and looked like they would force a Game 7. Then, the Thunder tied the game at the end of the third quarter and, in the fourth quarter, took their first lead since the first quarter. OKC went up by as many as 10 points before holding off a late Clippers rally for the win.

What it means: The Thunder win the series in six games and advance to the Western Conference finals to play the Spurs.

Hits: Blake Griffin had 22 points, eight rebounds and eight assists before fouling out of the game with 2:27 left in the game. Chris Paul had 25 points and 11 assists, while J.J. Redick scored 16. DeAndre Jordan added nine points and 15 rebounds.

Misses: On a night when the Clippers were trying to extend their season and force a Game 7, they needed more from more players. They needed Matt Barnes to go better than 4-for-14 for nine points. They needed Jamal Crawford to score more than four points off the bench. And they needed Danny Granger to do, well, anything (0-for-3 for a single point).

Stat of the game: The Clippers dominated the Thunder in points in the paint (52-28), which was a goal coming into the game that didn’t matter in the end.

Up next: The Clippers season is over, and they will have the next five months to regroup, recover and reload before training camp starts.

Paul on loss: 'It's just bad basketball'

May, 14, 2014
OKLAHOMA CITY -- Chris Paul didn't say anything.

He stared blankly straight ahead at nothing in particular without blinking, immune to the noise around him.

[+] EnlargeChris Paul
AP PhotoChris Paul put full blame for the Clippers' Game 5 loss to the Thunder on his shoulders after a horrific final 45 seconds in Oklahoma City.
Usually, Paul's voice can be heard booming in the Clippers' locker room after a win or loss. He'll be replaying key moments to his teammates, complaining about officials he doesn't like or talking about different options on plays he might have missed.

There was none of that Tuesday night after a nightmarish final 45 seconds that Paul described as "the toughest thing I've been through, basketball-wise."

At that point, the Clippers were up 104-97 on the Thunder after a 17-foot pull-up jump shot by Paul. It seemed as if the Clippers would be one win away from the franchise's first conference finals appearance with Game 6 taking place in Los Angeles.

That's when Paul and the Clippers imploded and, as Doc Rivers said during a fiery postgame news conference, "made a comedy of errors."

Paul's errors began after Kevin Durant hit a 3-pointer and a fast-break layup to bring Oklahoma City to within 104-102 with 17 seconds left. When Paul got the inbounds pass from Matt Barnes, he assumed Russell Westbrook was going to foul him, and he jumped up and lost the ball. Reggie Jackson grabbed the loose ball, headed toward the basket, but lost the ball out of bounds after getting hit by Matt Barnes. No foul was called, but the Thunder retained possession.

Five seconds later, Paul fouled Westbrook on a 3-pointer and Oklahoma City took the lead after Westbrook made all three free throws. The Clippers, however, still had a chance to win the game, down one, with the ball, 6.4 seconds left and the ball in Paul's hands. But the All-Star guard never got a shot off and lost the ball on the dribble as time expired.

In the biggest game of his career, Paul suddenly experienced the worst 45-second stretch of his career and was at a loss for words when trying to explain what happened.

"It's me. Everything that happened there at the end is on me," Paul said. "The turnover with 17 seconds left, assuming they were going to foul was the dumbest play I've ever made. To even put it in the official's hand to call a foul on a 3 ... it's just bad basketball."

Paul didn't agree with every call down the stretch. He didn't think the Thunder should have received the ball after watching it go off Jackson out of bounds, and he didn't think he fouled Westbrook on his 3-pointer. But his two turnovers were all that mattered to him in the end.

"I didn't feel like I did [foul Westbrook], but it doesn't matter," Paul said. "We lost. It's on me. They scored and we have a chance to win on the last play and I don't even get a shot up. That's just dumb. I'm supposed to be the leader of the team. That can't happen. The league can issue a statement tomorrow saying the ball was off them, but who [cares]? We lost."

While Rivers spent the majority of his 10-minute postgame news conference complaining that the officials "robbed" the Clippers of a win after missing the out-of-bounds call on Jackson, Paul spent most of his time taking the blame. The Jackson play doesn't happen if Paul doesn't turn the ball over. The Clippers aren't trailing if Paul doesn't foul Westbrook as he attempts a 3-pointer, and none of that matters if Paul hits a winning jumper in the end.

As Paul replayed the game in his mind, he kept coming back to himself and his errors as the reason the Clippers weren't able to close the game.

"With 17 seconds, up two, just dribble the ball up and let them foul you, I probably tricked myself into assuming Russ was going to foul or they were going to call a foul, and then you can't foul a 3-point shooter," Paul said. "That's the dumbest thing ever. Even if I didn't foul him, don't even give them a chance to call it. It was just bad."

Paul is no stranger to complaining about officials after games, but on a night when his coach blamed the officials for the Clippers' loss, Paul refused to blame anyone but himself. There were several reasons the Clippers blew a 13-point lead with less than four minutes to go, but the only reasons Paul cared about were the ones he caused and the ones he could have corrected.

"We got to keep playing, but this one was bad, though," Paul said. "This is bad. To work that hard and have the game and give it away ... I pride myself on taking care of the ball and managing games towards the end. None of the guys on the team could have done anything about it. It was just me. ... We shouldn't have been in that situation. That's on me."

The Clippers have become accustomed to dealing with and overcoming adversity on and off the court this postseason, but Paul never looked more defeated and more crushed than he did leaving Chesapeake Energy Arena on Tuesday night. When he was asked how he would get over the loss, the point guard who prides himself on always having an answer had none.

"I don't know," Paul said. "I don't know. You just do. This one's bad. Get ready for Game 6."

Rapid Reaction: Thunder 105, Clippers 104

May, 13, 2014
OKLAHOMA CITY -- The Clippers knew they got away with one during Sunday’s Game 4 in Los Angeles. As they walked around their Staples Center locker room after coming back from 22 points down early and 16 points down with nine minutes left, they knew they had stolen a game and perhaps saved their playoff lives.

But they weren't satisfied with just tying the series. The message from the coaching staff was simple: Steal another one in Oklahoma and put yourselves in a position to close out the series back home.

It looked as the Clippers were about to do exactly that for much of Tuesday's Game 5 ... before the Oklahoma City Thunder repaid the Clippers with a comeback that was just as improbable in a 105-104 win.

With the Clippers leading 104-97 with 44 seconds left, the Thunder closed with an 8-0 run, including three free throws by Russell Westbrook to clinch the win and take a 3-2 series lead.

How it happened: After sleepwalking through the first quarter of Sunday's game, falling behind by 22 points nine minutes in, the Clippers took a 15-point lead in the first quarter Tuesday and controlled the tempo and pace for most of the game, despite having multiple players in early foul trouble. The Clippers never trailed in the second half until the final seconds, when Westbrook's free throw put the Thunder ahead for good.

What it means: The Thunder have taken a 3-2 series lead and can clinch the series with a win Thursday in Los Angeles.

Hits: Blake Griffin had his first double-double of this season's playoffs, finishing with 24 points and 17 rebounds. Chris Paul had 17 points and 14 assists, Matt Barnes posted 16 points and 10 rebounds, Jamal Crawford tallied 19 points off the bench and J.J. Redick scored 16.

Misses: After being the star of Game 4 with 12 points in the fourth quarter, Darren Collison had only one point in 10 minutes Tuesday and was a team-worst minus-15 while on the court. Meanwhile, Paul had a game-high five turnovers.

Stat of the game: The Thunder outscored the Clippers on points in the paint (44-22) and had the Clippers' big men in foul trouble for most of the game.

Up next: The Clippers will play host to the Thunder in Game 6 at 7:30 PT Thursday night at Staples Center, as L.A. looks to stay alive in the series.

Doc: Clips need 'every-possession urgency'

May, 10, 2014
LOS ANGELES -- Doc Rivers smiled when he was told the Los Angeles Clippers have never come back from a 2-1 playoff series deficit in team history.

“You mean in the four times,” Rivers said. “Any of those stats don’t matter. If you said the Lakers or the Celtics, then that would matter. With us, at least those historical playoffs things, [it doesn’t resonate] here.”

It’s no secret the Clippers don’t have much of a playoff history. Even if they were to win Sunday’s Game 4 against the Oklahoma City Thunder, the Clippers have lost five of six best-of-seven series when tied 2-2. And they have never advanced past the second round.

[+] EnlargeBlake Griffin and Doc Rivers
AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill

Doc Rivers cares less about the Clippers' meager playoff history and more about the tough lessons his players are learning in their series against the more-grizzled Thunder.

In fact, the Clippers registered just 11 total playoff wins from 1977 until Chris Paul arrived in 2011. Since then, the Clippers have won 11 playoff games in three seasons.

Yes, the Clippers have made great strides. But they still have yet to win more than one game in the second round.

There is only one player on their roster -- Glen Davis -- who has won a title, and he’s a reserve. Only one starter -- J.J. Redick -- has played in the NBA Finals.

At some point, the Clippers believe, they can get to the conference finals and the Finals and win a title. But their lack of experience in these moments is often exposed while going up against an Oklahoma City team that has enjoyed repeated success over the past five seasons, including a trip to the Finals.

“That’s the one advantage Oklahoma has had on us,” Rivers said. “They have several guys that have been all the way to the Finals, and they get it. They get the urgency of every single possession. We’ve been in and out of that throughout the playoffs. For us to keep going, we have to get that every-possession urgency.

“Offensively we scored 112 points [Friday], but we took off 15 possessions where we were running it but we weren’t running it crisply. We didn’t get to the right spots; we took shortcuts. Those are the things you just can’t do, and I think our guys are quickly understanding that. That point alone was beaten into us.”

It’s all part of the process and growth Rivers has talked about with the Clippers since arriving last summer. As much as he wanted to win a title in his first season, he also wanted the Clippers to take strides in learning how to become championship contenders.

When Rivers heard Paul call Game 4 a “must-win” game, he said that’s how Paul and the Clippers should approach every game and every possession in the postseason.

“I think Games 1, 2 and 3 were must wins,” Rivers said. “I honestly think that’s the urgency you have to play with in the playoffs, and I think we’ve been in and out of that. That’s, right now, the lessons we’re learning. You can still keep getting better through the playoffs. That’s why you don’t panic. You keep getting better and you keep pushing. There’s growth with every team.

“Miami will grow during the playoffs. You grow during the playoffs. You learn. You get beat and you learn, and you get better or you go home; it’s one of those two things. That’s part of the process. You have to be willing to take it, understand it, process it and move on.”

Despite being down 2-1 in their series against Oklahoma City, the Clippers weren’t too concerned after practice on Saturday. L.A. was down 1-0 to the Golden State Warriors and won its first-round series.

The Clippers also showed they could win on the road -- twice, including a Game 7 -- two years ago against the Memphis Grizzlies.

The Clippers still feel good about their chances versus OKC, but those hopes largely rely on tying the series up on Sunday here at home.

“We put ourselves in a hole, but we just have to correct some of our mistakes,” Blake Griffin said. “We came back from this situation down 1-0. It has turned, but it’s not like we’re down 3-0. We’re down 2-1 and we got another game at home.

“We need to correct our mistakes, but it’s nothing to hang our heads about or be down about. We have a chance to even it up Sunday.”

Keys to victory: Thunder 118, Clippers 112

May, 10, 2014
For the third straight time in the series, the Oklahoma City Thunder and Los Angeles Clippers both topped 100 points, as the Thunder won 118-112 in Los Angeles.

The Thunder did something Friday that they had never done as a franchise. They won Game 3 on the road when the series was tied at a game apiece. They had lost the four previous times they played such a game.

Durant, Thunder dominant inside
Kevin Durant scored 30 points for the seventh time in this year’s playoffs. That’s as many as any other two players combined.

He was successful close to the basket on Friday, scoring 20 points from 10 feet and in, breaking his previous playoff high of 18 such points. He had only scored 12 such points in the first two games of the series.

Durant wasn’t the only player who was successful close to the basket. The Thunder scored a postseason high 52 points in the paint, outscoring the Clippers in the paint for the second straight game.

Russell Westbrook fell two rebounds short of recording his second straight triple-double, but he did reach double digits in assists in back-to-back playoff games for the first time in his career.

Paul comes up big in losing effort
In a losing effort, Chris Paul scored 21 points and handed out 16 assists without recording a turnover.

In the last 25 years, only two players have had 20 points, 15 assists and zero turnovers in a playoff game -- Magic Johnson in 1991 and Chris Paul twice (tonight and in 2008 against the Dallas Mavericks).

The only players to have more assists without a turnover in the playoffs in that span are Rajon Rondo (19 in 2009) and Magic Johnson (17 in 1991).

Looking ahead to Sunday
The Thunder are 1-0 when leading a best-of-7 series two games to one. The Clippers have lost all four series that the have trailed two games to one.

Time running out to step up on defense

May, 10, 2014
LOS ANGELES -- For the better part of three seasons, the Los Angeles Clippers have talked about wanting to be a defensive team.

In their ideal word, “Lob City” would one day morph into something more reminiscent of the “Bad Boys.” In fact, when ESPN’s “30 for 30” documentary on those Detroit Pistons of the late 1980s aired last month, every Clippers player watched it and talked about it the next day at practice.

If they were ever going to realize their dreams of becoming a championship team, they would have to buy in defensively like that Pistons team did. They would have to contest every shot and make life miserable for their opponents.

[+] EnlargeBlake Griffin
AP Photo/Mark J. TerrillBlake Griffin and the Clippers scored plenty in Friday's loss to the Thunder, but they have to suddenly become a much better defensive unit if they expect to advance.
It’s a solid goal, but it remains just that, and nothing more, for the Clippers.

As much as the Clippers want to be known as a defensive team, it’s a title they’ll never fully attain until it becomes part of their DNA, instead of a tired pregame and postgame talking point. Only then will the Clippers also be able to attain their larger goal of being a championship team.

Friday’s 118-112 Game 3 home loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder showed how far the Clippers have to go to have that defensive presence and to be the team coach Doc Rivers told them they had to be during training camp and every practice since.

It wasn’t just that the Thunder scored 118 points. It was how they scored those points. They shot 55.7 percent from the field and scored a postseason-high 52 points in the paint, outscoring the Clippers in the paint for the second straight game.

“Defensively, if somebody is scoring 118 points, we obviously have to play defense better and I have to coach defense better,” Rivers said. “They shot above 50 percent. We didn't. I thought that was the difference in the game. But they got everything. They got 3s, layups, key second shots. Down the stretch, they made every big play. Every shot they needed went in.

“We had shots, too, and they didn't go in. I just thought we put way too much pressure on our offense because our defense wasn't working.”

Even when the Clippers’ defense broke down during the season and early in the playoffs, they usually found a way to rally late and get key stops down the stretch. It happened during Game 7 of the first-round series against the Golden State Warriors, when they came back from 13 points down.

Rallying from defensive letdowns and counting on late stops is like a safety blanket. It’s a strategy that can work during the season and in the first round of the playoffs but will often lead to loss when going up against teams like the Thunder.

“We've been a team regardless of how the first three-quarters went or the first part of the fourth quarter, we relied on stops down the stretch,” Chris Paul said. “Tonight we didn't do that. We obviously scored enough points to win. [Russell Westbrook] hit a big 3 when they were up one. [Kevin Durant] hit one on the wing. We're used to getting stops in those situations, and we didn't tonight.”

Rivers has said the Clippers can win when Durant and Westbrook have big nights. They’re almost always going to have big nights, as was the case Friday when they combined for 59 points, 19 assists and 16 rebounds.

What L.A. can’t afford is to have Serge Ibaka score 20 points on 9-of-10 shooting and Reggie Jackson and Caron Butler combine for 28 points off the bench.

“The thing that’s happened the last two games is they’ve had different guys step up,” J.J. Redick said. “Tonight, Reggie Jackson and Serge played well offensively. We know Durant and Westbrook are going to get their points. We’d like to limit the other guys as much as possible.”

Making those defensive stops can be hard when players are in the wrong place and trying to coach one another and point out mistakes as the game is happening. Instead of moving onto the next play, the Clippers have a penchant for dwelling on previous mistakes, which usually leads to more mistakes.

“The only thing I didn't like, I thought they were frustrated when they scored, which is good. You want them to be. But you got to keep playing,” Rivers said. “I thought there was some residual. One guy knows that the defense broke down because there was somebody else. Instead of just keeping playing, you felt like you had to tell them. I'm saying, ‘OK, let's tell them later, but let's just keep playing.’

“It's human nature. Guys want to win. They all want to win. I get that, have no problem with that, but we have to move past that.”

Chances are the Clippers aren’t going to become the defensive team they want to be overnight, and certainly not before Game 4 on Sunday. But they’ll need to at least move in that direction if they hope to win and get past the second round for the first time in franchise history.

“We just have come out ready to play,” Paul said. “It's a tough one here, but we need to get Game 4. It's like a must-win for us. We knew that we were going to have to win at least one there, and now we're going to have to win two there. We're going to have to start off with a Game 4 win.”

Rapid Reaction: Thunder 118, Clippers 112

May, 9, 2014

LOS ANGELES -- After two lopsided games for both teams to start the series, the Los Angeles Clippers and Oklahoma City Thunder were due for a close game that would finally live up to the hype preceding this series.

That’s exactly what happened Friday, as the Thunder took a 2-1 series lead with a 118-112 win over the Clippers.

In a game that saw 13 ties and 19 lead changes, the Thunder were able to pull away late and take control of the game and the series, thanks to Kevin Durant’s 36 points and Russell Westbrook’s near triple-double of 23 points, 13 assists and eight rebounds.

How it happened: It was a seesaw game for most of the night with exchanging leads as the stars played like it for most of the evening. While Durant and Westbrook will get the headlines, the Thunder are at their best when their role players have big nights; and they did Friday. Serge Ibaka scored 20 points, Reggie Jackson posted 14 points and former Clipper Caron Butler also had 14.

What it means: The Thunder have taken a 2-1 series lead and can take a commanding 3-1 lead Sunday before the series returns back to Oklahoma City.

Hits: Chris Paul had 21 points and 16 assists and was far more aggressive than he was in Game 2 -- but still not what he was in the Game 1. Blake Griffin had his best game of the series, finishing with 34 points, eight rebounds and four assists. Matt Barnes had 14 points, and Jamal Crawford, fresh off his Sixth Man of the Year award, had 20 points.

Misses: After playing well in the first two games of the series, J.J. Redick was a nonfactor in Game 3, finishing with three points after missing his first five shots and going 1-for-6 from the field. Glen Davis also was a liability when he was on the court, finishing with two points and with plus/minus of minus-12.

Stat of the game: The Thunder had the advantage in points in the paint (52-48), rebounding (44-33) and fast-break points (19-14). Throughout most of the game, Oklahoma City held the advantage when it came to hustle plays and 50-50 balls.

Up next: The Clippers will take on the Thunder in Game 4 of their second-round series at 12:30 p.m. PT on Sunday in Los Angeles.

Clippers let distractions get best of them

May, 8, 2014
OKLAHOMA CITY -- Long before Donald Sterling made racist remarks that ended up online and earned the Los Angeles Clippers' owner a lifetime ban from the NBA, Doc Rivers warned his team about "emotional hijacks."

What Rivers was referring to, however, had nothing to do with anything off the court. It was about the way the players responded when things didn't go their way on the court.

[+] EnlargeBlake Griffin
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesBlake Griffin scored only 15 points in the Clippers' Game 2 loss to the Thunder in Oklahoma City.
When Rivers watched film of the Clippers after arriving in Los Angeles last June, the one thing he noticed time after time was the Clippers letting one bad call or one bad play stick with them. They would waste the next few plays complaining to officials about a bad call or they would bicker at one another, and suddenly they were out of the game.

After getting through the ultimate "emotional hijack" off the court, finding a way to win Game 7 of their first-round series against the Golden State Warriors and blowing out the Oklahoma City Thunder in Game 1 of the second round, the Clippers actually let the on-court distractions get the best of them in a 112-101 loss in Game 2 on Wednesday.

"The playoffs are a single-possession game," Rivers said. "Every single possession, you have to have great focus and you have to be locked in. Today we were not. I thought it was because of all the clutter today. We were upset at the officials, we were upset at everything, instead of turning our anger toward the opponent and focus. Tonight we just didn't have it, but I've got to give them credit. I don't know if we didn't have it or they took it from us. I thought they were very good tonight. They were physical, they moved the ball, so give them a lot of credit."

The Clippers were still talking about some of that clutter after the game, amazed in particular that Chris Paul got a technical at the end of the game while he was sitting on the bench.

"I don't know, man," Paul said when asked about the technical, smiling and looking off to the side. "Did you see it? What did you get from it? I'm going to save my money, man. He already got $2,000 with the tech."

Paul, however, did admit the Clippers had to do a better job of getting past calls with which they don't agree and focus on playing their game, which they did not do Wednesday.

"We got to be better," Paul said. "We can't worry about the bad whistles. You start off the game with bad turnovers, and me and the ref get a foul and then I get another one and go to the bench. You could tell it was going to be a long night."

(Read full post)

Rapid Reaction: Thunder 112, Clippers 101

May, 7, 2014

OKLAHOMA CITY -- The Los Angeles Clippers came into Oklahoma City looking to steal one game and home-court advantage. After doing that Monday night, the Clippers were looking for something more on Wednesday night that would never materialize.

The Oklahoma City Thunder avoided dropping their first two home games to the Clippers and tied up their second-round playoff series at 1-1 after claiming a 112-101 victory.

Kevin Durant, who was presented with the MVP trophy before the game by NBA commissioner Adam Silver, scored 17 points in the first quarter as the Thunder took an 11-point lead. Although the Clippers would come back, the Thunder controlled the game for the most part, going up by as many as 20 points, and Durant finished with 32 points. Russell Westbrook had 31 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists for his third triple-double in his past five playoff games.

How it happened: The Thunder came out firing after Durant was given the MVP trophy and a standing ovation by the sellout crowd at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Durant's big quarter had the Thunder up by 11 points early. The Clippers stormed back to take a four-point lead, but the Thunder came right back and were up by as many as 20 points in the third quarter and never trailed again.

What it means: The Clippers and Thunder are now tied 1-1 after two games in their second-round series, with the next two games taking place in Los Angeles on Friday and Sunday.

Hits: Chris Paul had 17 points and 11 assists but wasn't as aggressive as he was in Game 1, when he had 32 points and eight 3-pointers. Paul shot only 6-of-13 from the field and 2-of-5 from beyond the arc. J.J. Redick was solid, scoring a team-high 18 points and hitting 7 of 10 shots from the field and 2 of 4 on 3-pointers. Matt Barnes had 11 points, and Darren Collison and Glen Davis combined for 23 points off the bench.

Misses: Blake Griffin finished third in MVP voting this season and will need to play like the third-best player in the league for the Clippers to have chance in this series. On Wednesday, he was nonexistent early and finished with 15 points on 5-of-13 shooting to go along with six rebounds and two turnovers. Jamal Crawford also didn't play up to his sixth-man-of-the-year status, finishing with seven points on 2-of-13 shooting and hitting only 1 of 7 from beyond the arc.

Stat of the game: After going 4-for-6 from beyond the arc in the first quarter, the Clippers went 5-for-21 over the final three quarters from long range.

Up next: The Clippers will take on the Thunder in Game 3 on Friday night at Staples Center.
OKLAHOMA CITY – Los Angeles Clippers forward Blake Griffin finished third in the NBA MVP voting behind Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant and Miami Heat forward LeBron James.

Clippers guard Chris Paul finished seventh. The Clippers are the fourth team in the past 10 years to have two players finish in the top seven of MVP voting. The previous three teams (2004 Los Angeles Lakers, 2011 Miami Heat and 2013 San Antonio Spurs) advanced to, but lost, in the NBA Finals.

[+] EnlargeBlake Griffin and Chris Paul
Howard Smith/USA TODAY SportsBlake Griffin finished third in MVP voting behind Kevin Durant and LeBron James. Teammate Chris Paul was seventh.
Griffin’s third-place finish was his highest ever in the MVP voting after a career season in which he averaged 24.1 points and 9.5 rebounds per game. He became the first player in the NBA since Shaquille O'Neal in 2002-03 to average at least 24 points, 9 rebounds and 3 assists while shooting over 50 percent from the field.

“I’m honored, really,” Griffin said. “It’s hard to believe, but I’m honored and humbled by that. I said all year it was kind of a two-man race and towards the end it was a no-brainer. It’s definitely cool to be up there."

While Griffin is happy to be ranked as one of the top three players in the league by voters, he said his goal is to continue to improve his game and one day win the MVP.

“Third place, you don’t really get a trophy for that, maybe a bronze medal,” Griffin said. “It’s nice to be considered as that, but I have a lot of areas for improvement.”

(Read full post)

Keys to victory: Clippers 122, Thunder 105

May, 6, 2014
The Los Angeles Clippers had a surprisingly easy night in Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals against the Oklahoma City Thunder.

The Clippers snapped the Thunder’s six-game winning streak in Game 1s played at home with an easy win.

Difference-Maker: Chris Paul
Clippers point guard Chris Paul had arguably the best game of his NBA career, making 12 of 14 shots, including a career high eight three-pointers (he’d never made more than five in any game.

He finished with 32 points and 10 assists.

Paul is the first player to have 30 points, 10 assists and shoot 75 percent or better from the field in a playoff game since Michael Jordan for the Chicago Bulls in 1991.

Paul made pull-up jump shots against eight different Thunder defenders in the game.

Paul went 51 for 156 from three-point range in his first 53 games of the season. In the last 17, he is 52 for 102.

Durant and Westbrook can’t get it done
Kevin Durant scored 25 points for the Thunder, but the team was outscored by 26 points with him on the floor. The minus-26 was a career postseason worst for him.

Including playoffs, Durant has had a plus/minus of minus-10 or worse 109 times in his career, and the Thunder have lost every single one of those games.

Russell Westbrook finished with 29 points, but they were of little impact.
The Thunder are 0-4 this postseason when Westbrook scores more than 27 points (4-0 with 27 or fewer points).

Thunder don’t play their best defense
The Clippers shot 55 percent in the half court in Game 1. The Thunder held opponents to 43 percent shooting in half court situations during the regular season, fourth best in the NBA.

Paul's sense of urgency can benefit team

May, 5, 2014

OKLAHOMA CITY -- Chris Paul was the first player at Chesapeake Energy Solutions Arena on Monday.

Before the first team bus pulled into the arena, Paul had gotten into a cab and come over on his own almost four hours before the start of the game to shoot with Los Angeles Clippers assistant coach Dave Severns.

Whenever Paul feels the need to shoot before or after a game, he will tell Severns and the two will go through a shooting drill that takes Paul around the court with Severns feeding him the ball.

Paul felt the need to come over early on Monday after feeling sluggish during the morning shootaround and falling asleep during the film session on Sunday.

“Me and Blake talked about it this morning at shootaround,” Paul said. “Obviously, we were still a little tight from traveling and we said at 8:30 we better be ready to go, so I came over here early before the game and got a lot of shots up.”

By the time Paul walked off the court in the afternoon, his injured right hamstring and right thumb were behind him. He felt better than he had since the postseason began and told his teammates that he would look to be more aggressive early in the game.

[+] EnlargeChris Paul
AP Photo/Sue OgrockiChris Paul may be playing like this is his only opportunity for a conference final appearance, but he had a chance to smile with Blake Griffin at the end of their Game 1 rout of the Thunder.
None of them could have foreseen how aggressive he would be.

In one of the biggest games of his career, Paul had the best shooting night of his career. He finished with 32 points on 12-of-14 from the field and 8-of-9 from beyond the 3-point line. Paul made his first eight 3-point attempts and fell one shy of the single-game playoff record of nine 3s.

Never before had Paul made more than five 3-pointers in a game (a span of 665 regular season and postseason games). He hit six before halftime and eight before the end of the third quarter.

It didn’t matter who the Oklahoma City Thunder threw at him, Paul made a pull-up jumper against eight different Thunder defenders on the night.

Not only did Paul lead the Clippers to a 122-105 blowout of the Thunder in Game 1 of their Western Conference semifinal series, he became the first player with at least 30 points and 10 assists on 75 percent shooting in a playoff game since Michael Jordan in 1991.

Paul’s teammates often tell him to be aggressive, but more often than not his comfort zone is in facilitating for his teammates and letting the game come to him. On Monday, however, he listened to his teammates, especially Blake Griffin, who looked at him early in the first quarter and repeatedly told him, “Be aggressive. Be aggressive.”

“I try to take what’s given to me and early, and I think the shot clock might have been running down on one of the first shots that I shot and I made it and I just kept trying to be aggressive,” Paul said. “I didn’t want to force it or anything like that. I’m one of those people that think when you’re hot and you take a bad shot, it’s gone. I just tried to be aggressive.”

Paul has been getting around-the-clock treatment from the Clippers training staff on his injured hamstring and thumb. Doc Rivers hinted before the series started that most people outside the Clippers’ locker room have no idea what Paul had to go through to play in the previous series against the Golden State Warriors.

“That’s just toughness,” Rivers said after Game 1 in Oklahoma City. “I thought he really set the tone for us at the start of the game. I just thought he went downhill a lot with the drives and that’s what we have been trying to tell him to do. Quick decisions and move the ball. I thought his being aggressive at the start of the game really set the tone throughout the game.”

Paul often jokes he’s not much of a 3-point shooter. But it has become part of his arsenal recently. After going 51-for-156 from 3-point range in his first 53 games of the season, Paul is now 52-of-102 in his past 17 games.

“That’s what I do,” Paul said when asked about his 3-point shooting. “That’s a lie. I don’t know. It was just one of those nights. I promise you it has to be a career high. This one will definitely go down in the record books for me. Don’t count on it for Game 2, I can tell you that.”

Paul was 10-for-12 for 28 points on pull-up jump shots Monday, including 8-of-9 from 3. And the only thing Paul’s older brother, C.J., was interested in talking about postgame were those two misses and Paul’s two turnovers.

“That’s the way it’s always been,” Paul said. “That’s the way it is.”

Paul is a perfectionist who usually only looks at the number of mistakes he made in a game. His eyes will almost always dart to the turnovers column; if there is a number greater than zero for him, that’s what he will focus on.

But Paul has taken a big-picture approach to this season and this playoff run. He read the book "The Way of the Champion," by Jerry Lynch, before the start of the postseason and talked about the need to take advantage of being on a championship team, not knowing how many opportunities he will have during his career.

“I’ve never been past the second round, and this is my ninth season. I remember the team I was on in 2008, when we lost Game 7 to the Spurs, and you feel like you’re always going to be back there. And that’s not the case,” Paul said. “The team here, I think is a special team. Not only do we have a good team, but also it’s fun to be around each other.”

Rivers doesn’t think this is a make-or-break postseason for Paul, but that he’s approaching it like it is certainly doesn’t hurt.

“I think Chris Paul is going to be in a lot of second-round series trying to get to the third round, and this is not going to be the last one,” Rivers said. “He has the urgency like this is going to be the last one, and I think that’s really important for the entire team that this is going to be the last one. And I think that’s really important for our entire team to have that urgency. You can’t assume anything in our league.”

Information from ESPN Stats & Information was used in this story.



Blake Griffin
22.5 5.1 0.9 35.3
ReboundsD. Jordan 14.5
AssistsC. Paul 10.1
StealsC. Paul 1.8
BlocksD. Jordan 2.3