Clippers show they can handle without Paul
LOS ANGELES — The Clippers are settling into life without Chris Paul. It’s not going to be easy, but they proved Monday night that good defense and teamwork go a long way.
In their second game without their point guard and floor leader, the Clippers began their readjustment period. It was everything they could have hoped for.
But a 101-81 win over the Orlando Magic at Staples Center was just one game. They don’t expect every night to be this easy. Paul’s absence will be felt, perhaps more often than they would like.
Still, this was a start, an indication that if players step forward, the Clippers should be able to endure this period without too many bruises.
— Los Angeles Clippers (@LAClippers) January 7, 2014
"We’ve got to survive this," coach Doc Rivers said. "This is a long stretch without Chris. Like I said when it happened, someone’s going to find his way, and when Chris comes back, we’re going to be better for it. I don’t know who that is, but someone will, and it will make us a better team."
Collectively, the Clippers can still be formidable. After giving up 70 first-half points in their previous two games, they held the out-manned Magic to just 34. Center DeAndre Jordan came close to a triple-double, finishing with 14 points, 17 rebounds and eight blocked shots. Darren Collison, Paul’s replacement at point guard, had 21 points and seven assists.
"You couldn’t really ask for a better game from a lot of guys tonight," forward Blake Griffin said. "Guys were hitting shots, guys were defending, guys were getting steals. We were running people off the three-point line. We did all the things that we wanted to do."
While Paul sat on the bench next to the coaches, his teammates stormed to an early lead behind an 18-0 first-quarter run. They had a 35-point lead in the third quarter and probably could have won by at least that many had they not lapsed in the final period.
"I wasn’t worried about the offense, honestly," Rivers said. "I thought out defense was terrific. In the first half, it was as good as it’s been. It was stifling."
Picking up for Paul, who will miss about six weeks with a separated right shoulder, means adjustments for some players. Collison moves into a starting role and must focus on running an offense and ball distribution as much as defense. Jamal Crawford has been starting in place of J.J. Redick but knows he will be asked to play point guard at times.
"I’m just going to play my game," Collison said. "You can’t be Chris Paul. Chris is a great player in this league because he’s himself. I’ve got to play my game, do what I do best. If I make a mistake, then I make a mistake. The one thing you can count on is that I’m always going to play hard and try to help my team win."
Crawford said, "I think I have to be more aggressive, and that’s not always to look to score. I just have to make plays. If the shot is there, I take the shot. If not, I try to make an easy play for my teammates. I definitely have to be more assertive."
They can get through this. So far, they’re 1-1 minus Paul. But there’s still a long stretch ahead.