The prospect of playing without Chris Paul is the kind of thing that can send shudders through a team. But the Clippers are so deep and so versatile that the loss of their playmaker and point guard amounted to a blip Monday night in Memphis.
It’s not something they’d care to do on a regular basis, but in the opener of a three-game trip, they proved an ability to overcome Paul’s absence in a blowout 99-73 win over the Grizzlies.
After a couple of lackadaisical performances at home against the Dallas Mavericks (a win) and the Orlando Magic (a loss), the Clippers regrouped nicely in their return to Memphis since their Game 7 playoff victory last season. But any expectation of a struggle was erased quickly.
A 20-2 run in the second quarter gave the Clippers a 34-19 lead and essentially put them in control for the remainder of the game. Memphis went almost 10 minutes without a basket, but that was only the start of its problems.
Paul, the Clippers’ team leader in assists and steals, was a late scratch after suffering a contusion in his right kneecap Saturday against Orlando. The Grizzlies’ leading scorer, Rudy Gay, also missed the game to attend his grandmother’s funeral.
Make no mistake, the Clippers will miss Paul over an extended period if it takes him a while to get back, but in his place Eric Bledsoe played spectacularly: 14 points, four assists, three rebounds, two steals, one blocked shot and no turnovers in 28 minutes. Basically, he was everywhere.
“He has a tough role backing up the best point guard in the NBA,” forward Matt Barnes said. “You’re not going to get too many minutes, but his number was called tonight and he played great — no turnovers and he played great defense.”
The Clippers’ 11-5 road record is tied with Oklahoma City for the best road mark in the league, but it’s just the start of a tough stretch away from Staples Center. They’re in Houston on Tuesday and play 11 of their next 14 away from home.
Some talking points from Monday’s win:
• Bledsoe could start for a number of teams (think Lakers), but he’s establishing a critical role for himself on the Clippers. He energizes the second unit and is such a tremendous athlete that he can block shots and grab rebounds. Sure, there’s a dropoff with Paul sidelined, but Bledsoe isn’t a bad replacement in the short term.
• The bench had struggled of late, but it played impressively against the Grizzles, outscoring the Memphis bench by a 54-26 margin. Barnes and Jamal Crawford had 16 apiece, and Grant Hill, in his second game back from a bone bruise in his knee, added eight. Crawford even stepped into the point guard role on occasion and took care of the ball well. The Clippers had just 10 turnovers.
• The Grizzlies had 24 offensive rebounds to the Clippers’ 11, but that was offset by a horrendous shooting night. Memphis made just 30 percent from the floor (27 of 89), and even routine putbacks often went awry. “We got really beat up on the offensive glass, but we had kind of controlled the tempo enough and we were sharing the ball offensively that we could get away with it,” Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro said.