LOS ANGELES -- So how would Chr -- sorry, there wasn’t even enough time to ask the question before we had the answer. Chris Paul’s return from a shoulder injury after Blake Griffin occupied the driver’s seat for the past 18 games immediately showed what the Clippers' offense would look like with Paul back: a devastatingly effective force. It produced the largest margin of victory in Clippers franchise history, a 45-point drubbing of the Philadelphia 76ers.
Turns out it was like wondering if water would still run down the riverbed after the next torrential downpour.
The pregame curiosity didn’t stem from if it would work so much as how it would work with Paul running the show again after Griffin had grown accustomed to occupying whatever spot on the court he wanted during Paul's absence. All parties insisted it wouldn’t be a problem, with coach Doc Rivers saying the only noticeable difference would be more outlet passes directly to Griffin, which had been a thing lately. We saw some of those, in addition to times when CP3 gave the ball to Griffin on the fast break much earlier than he usually does.
“We just kind of let it happen,” Griffin said. “If he’s out ahead, I’m going to give him the ball 99 percent of the time. But if I’m out ahead or on the side and we’ve got runners, why not. That’s something we kind of learned throughout this stretch.”
So Paul trusts Griffin with the ball in transition, while Griffin was content to return to playing off the ball in the half-court offense. It took just a couple of minutes to get that point across.
The Clippers won the tip and Paul fed Griffin along the right baseline for a layup. Then he flipped a pass to Griffin for an open jumper that Griffin missed. Next came a Paul pass ahead to Matt Barnes for a transition layup. It was 4-0 and the Philadelphia 76ers wouldn’t come anywhere near that close again. The Clippers led 28-5 after six minutes and 46-15 after one quarter. It was a spectacular 12-minute display of efficiency. They made 72 percent of their shots and assisted on 14 of their 18 baskets.
Yeah, um, so about that reintegration of Chris Paul?
“You guys talked about it,” Rivers told the media. “I said we wouldn’t have to. And we didn’t, as you could tell.”
“It was tough,” Griffin deadpanned. “But we managed.”
Paul said, “It was just tempo,” and that he could figure out where to fit in just from watching games from the bench.
With the compulsories out of the way, the Clippers started freestyling in the second quarter. Paul threw the ball off the backboard to Griffin, who windmill-dunked it home. Then Griffin flipped a behind-the-back pass to Paul, who lobbed it back to him for another windmill dunk.
The Clippers led by as many as 56 points in the second half. Keep in mind, they did it without J.J. Redick, who makes the Clippers even better offensively with his outside shooting and constant movement off the ball. Redick missed his third consecutive game with a sore hip; he is expected to return for the Clippers’ important Western Conference showdown against the Portland Trail Blazers Wednesday night.
The Clippers will be more potent. And Paul, whose moves seemed a bit slower and jump shot a little flat, should be a better scorer as he gets his timing back. His court vision is already there. He had eight assists in 23 minutes, which was enough time for him to log a plus-minus rating of plus-42 in the Clippers’ 123-78 romp.
Griffin had 26 points, 11 rebounds and 6 assists. DeAndre Jordan rebounded 20 of the 73 shots the 76ers missed.
“They just beat us down,” Philadelphia’s Evan Turner said.
That much was obvious. Apparently, so was the matter of Chris Paul’s impact on the team.