Doc Rivers wasn’t counting on taking the LA Clippers to a championship in his first season at the helm. He didn’t count on Blake Griffin becoming Karl Malone overnight and DeAndre Jordan, a new-age Marcus Camby. But all of these things were within the realm of possibility. What he never envisioned was a stretch run to the playoffs without his bread-n-butter point guard Chris Paul,who is out three to five weeks after sustaining a seperated shoulder during Friday night's 119-112 win over the Dallas Mavericks.
“The Western Conference is very unforgiving,” said ESPN analyst Chris Broussard. “(CP3's) injury is not season threatening, but they know they have an uphill battle for the next few weeks with him out.”
The Clippers are holding onto a ½ game lead over deadly Golden State in the Pacific Division and Phoenix is on the rise, just 1.5 games out. The injury may not be season-ending, but Paul’s hiatus could have serious ramifications, “because the seeding is crucial entering the playoffs,” said ESPN’s Tim Legler, who believes the Clippers benefit from playing a bunch of janky Eastern Conference squads in CP3’s absence. “They have a seven game east coast swing, and if they play to their abilities (without CP3), they will be able to keep their heads above water and stay pretty much status quo until CP3 comes back. Then they will make their push in the West. “
Last season when Paul was injured and missed 12 games with a knee contusion in May, the Clippers were fighting for their playoff lives and went just 6-6. The double-double machine is as important to the “greatness” of his team as any player in the league outside of LeBron James. If the Clippers even manage to go .500 without Paul (1-1 so far), they could drop from a fourth seed to as low as a sixth or seventh playoff seed, if they go on a bit of a slide.
Backup point guard Darren Collision has been picking up the slack and he balls hard, so it’s not like the talent level at the position is dropping off a cliff. He had a CP3-like 21 points and seven assists in a win over the feeble Magic in his first start in place of the injured court-kingpin.
“When you talk about backups, you can’t do much better than Collison," Legler gushed. Offensive highlight-homie Jamal Crawford can also play some point if necessary but his gunner-first mentality definitely changes the squad's chemistry. Crawford scored a team-high 24 points in LA's first CP3-less test against the Spurs, but the team looked like a bugatti with pancake syrup in its engine and were down 20 early, before getting thrashed 116-92.
Besides, CP3 is one of those larger-than-life NBA stars, whose leadership and ultra-competitive intangibles can’t be measured by a stat sheet. Despite waking up the stat-heads – by becoming the first player in NBA history to open up a season with 13 consecutive games of at least 10 points and 10 dimes, surpassing Magic Johnson's original record of 11 straight outing – CP3 is the definition of heart, hustle and grit. A millennium Isaiah Thomas, who can dish it and take it, battling among the NBA giants and challenging suffocating size like an insect dipping on a fly swatter.
And he brings superhuman men—big as boulders—to their knees with unfathomable game-winning daggers.
The Clippers will surely miss that. Rivers has lost the paint brush to the masterpiece of a team he was creating in LA. What little defensive grit and big-game intensity he has been able to instill in his team in just 37 games will be lost at times. Most importantly, with Paul’s injury the Clippers have lost their fear factor. Every championship-caliber team has a guy that other teams acknowledge as the best player on the court. There’s only a few teams that have a player comparable to CP3 leading the charge, and if there’s a better 1 in the game then tell me his name and get put to shame.
A quick recovery is mandatory for CP3 and Clippers Nation. Rivers also has to hope that a fully-rehabilitated Paul will be able to dive right back into the playoff thick when he returns. Collison can wear the robe and the crown, but he doesn’t hold the indigenous markings of a court king. That leaves Blake Griffin to be your meat-and-potatoes man and his veggie diet can be inhibitive to the carnivorous, late-game mentality Rivers is trying to breed.
This isn’t a soliloquy, because Paul will be back. But it does make you shake your head. The headline-snatching Lakers finally hit a down period and just as the Hollywood basketball world was transforming into LA Clippers land, the Clips leading-actor falls ill. As much as the new Clippers have erased memories of the old Clippers, familiar patches of bad luck still haunt this franchise.