In life and in pro basketball, you don’t get what you deserve. You get what you earn. Ask Chris Paul. He has a bunch of Olympic gold medals and All-Star appearances and top of the PER list nods and assist percentage gold stars. He has hit game winners and tossed up lob passes that tore the Staple Center roof off. His career achievements tell you everything you need to know about Chris Paul. He has done everything and accomplished everything. Except what defines NBA players. Winning.
Something always happens to derail the Chris Paul championship train. Call it a curse or call it Donald Sterling karma or call it being denied a Laker birthright and so the universe is having its say; call it just not being good enough as a team to move forward. Call it damn unlucky.
Chris Paul has paid his dues. He has had his low moments. He had been humbled. He has made playoff mistakes.
On his team is an elite rebounder and shot blocker and athlete, DeAndre Jordan. There is an explosive power forward scorer, Blake Griffin. Over the years, his bench has been very good and has also been pretty average. He has a Hall of Fame coach, Doc Rivers, who has been to the NBA Finals twice. Chris Paul has had everything. And it hasn’t seemed to have mattered.
Losing because of injury or because of toughness or because of mistakes or because of fatigue comes down to the same thing: losing. But this year, all that bad Clipper dark cloudiness may be in the rear view mirror. This year is turning out to be something special.
The Clippers are the best team in the NBA right now. I say right now because with the Clippers you always have to add the qualifier if. If they don’t get injured. If they stay focused. If they play defense like this.
The Clippers have always scored points. But in the Chris Paul era they only have had two top 5 defensive teams. In 2012-13 when they finished 4th in defense. And right now. They are the best defensive team in 2016-17, bar none.
The Clippers nonbelievers-and who can blame them, the Clippers take you on these wild pendulum swings only to break your heart- say it is November. Let’s see what happens when they play the Warriors and the Cavs. We’ll judge then. But even so, victories over the Warriors and Cavs, it’s not until the playoffs happen that something usually goes wrong for Doc Rivers club. The Clippers are that car you know is going to run out of gas or crash into a wall so you just wait and hold your breath.
But what if?
What if this is the year (finally) of not holding your breath? What if the depth of the Clippers and their defense and their hunger- Marreese Speights and Paul Pierce are the only NBA champion on the team- has them on a Warriors like run. Dominant in the regular season. Dominant until the conference finals.
The Clippers are 7th in field goal percentage and 3rd in 3-point percentage and bad at free throw shooting (26th) and below average offensive rebounders (20th) and aggressive rebounding the other teams misses (6th) and 14th in assists and 1st in steals and 11th in blocked shots and they don’t turn the ball over when Chris Paul is orchestrating things.
It is the Clippers defense that has become their identity. They are 1st in field goal percentage defense but 25th in 3-point percentage defense. Their defensive rating puts them at the top of the class, 96.7.
Individually, their defensive ratings are stunning. The worst defender of the starters is J.J. Redick who has a defensive rating of 101.
- Blake Griffin: 95
- DeAndre Jordan: 93
- Chris Paul: 91
- Luc Mbah a Moute: 98
Not to ruin a feel good Clipper party here, there is a pump your brakes, let’s slow it all down cautionary tale. Of their twelve opponents, the Clippers have played one title contender, the Spurs, who they beat in San Antonio. The rest are teams they are supposed to beat or low hanging fruit like the Nets and Suns.
- They beat Brooklyn by 32.
- And Portland by 31.
- And Detroit by 32.
- And the Spurs by 24.
- And the Suns by 18.
Only two opponents (Timberwolves and Brooklyn) shot 50% against them. 8 out of their 12 opponents have scored under 100 points. They have a 14.9 point differential. They give up 93.8 points a game. They score 108.7.
The best defensive team last year was the San Antonio Spurs. They gave up 92.9 points a game. They were 1st in defensive rating. They were 4th in field goal percentage defense and 1st in 3-point percentage defense. They had the Defensive Player of the Year in Kawhi Leonard for the second year in a row. And they lost in the second round of the playoffs to the Oklahoma City Thunder. Defense isn’t everything. It guarantees you nothing.
Which brings us back to Chris Paul. A great Clippers defense and Chris Paul are the ingredients that have the Clippers, for the first time in their history, in the driver’s seat. They have never advanced past the second round and recently the Golden State Warriors have had their number, have been tougher, more arrogant, and frankly, better. But the Clips weakened the Warriors when they signed Marreese Speights. The Warriors weakened themselves when they signed Kevin Durant and parted with vital contributors to their championship team. Still, the Clippers have not beaten the Warriors in Oakland in three years. They still have to prove they can defend the fast moving, shooting off the bounce and on the run Warriors style and that they can guard Kevin Durant.
Chris Paul has a tough task. Keep the Clippers happy but hungry and focused. Remain injury free. But he’s closer to a Western Conference Finals berth than he has ever been in his career. He is the leader that will take the credit or he is the unlucky point guard that will take the blame. If the Clippers fail again it will be on Chris Paul, fair or not. And if the Clippers meet their potential and get to the NBA Finals, Chris Paul will finally have earned it.
Curse or no curse.
photo via llananba