Chris Paul did not play for the Clippers on Tuesday night in Houston. The Clippers still won.
This bears repeating.
For a second consecutive night, Paul spent the game on the bench because of a bruised right kneecap. But his team didn’t miss a beat, pulling away from the Houston Rockets with a big third quarter in a 117-109 win at Toyota Center.
Unbelievable, right? In truth, it doesn’t make sense. Paul is the Clippers’ engine, a point guard who starts the offense, directs his teammates and often finishes plays. But in his absence, his teammates have stepped up.
They defeated the Memphis Grizzlies by 23 points on Monday night and used a fast second-half start to lead the Rockets by 19 at one point in the third quarter. They put together a 10-0 run to start the period and eventually completed a 36-9 run that gave them an 86-67 lead with 3:39 left in the third.
“We were just a little sharper in the third quarter,” Coach Vinny Del Negro said.
“Coach told us we had to play some defense,” Jamal Crawford said. “We had scored enough points, but we had to buckle down on defense. I thought we did a good job of that in the third quarter.”
The victory was the Clippers’ 30th in 39 games this season, marking the fastest any team in franchise history has reached 30 wins. They are also 2-0 on the three-game trip and have won eight of their past 10 road games.
At this rate, Paul may decide to sit out Thursday’s game at Minnesota.
Some talking points from the game:
— Jamal Crawford clearly remains the leader for the NBA’s Sixth Man award. He outscored the Rockets 12-0 in the first three minutes of the final period, giving the Clips a 102-82 edge. Crawford made 11 of 20 shots for the game, including 5 of 7 from three-point distance, and leads the league in 20-point games off the bench with 14.
— Eric Bledsoe again played exceptionally well as Paul’s place-holder at point guard, scoring 19 points in 36½ minutes and adding seven rebounds, five assists, two steals and just three turnovers. In two games filling in for Paul, Bledsoe has made just four turnovers.
— Willie Green doesn’t get much notice – not on a team that has Paul and Blake Griffin in the lineup – but he played his best game, scoring a season-high 15 points and making back-to-back threes in the third quarter for a 76-65 lead. But his most spectacular play came moments later when he finished off a fast break, taking a pass from Bledsoe and scoring a resounding dunk, then adding a free throw after he was fouled by James Harden. Green will sit when Chauncey Billups returns to the starting lineup, but in the meantime he’s a valuable contributor.
— Grant Hill is quickly finding a role on the bench. In his 1,000th career NBA game, he played 29 minutes and had four points and two assists. He’s taking away minutes from Ronny Turiaf, but he has blended in well with the second group. His recollection: “I’ll always remember that we won my 1,000th game.”