The Clippers winning a hotly contested game against Miami is something I dreamed of coming into this season. The Clippers had one of their strongest performances in the first half in their home meeting against Miami last season, and tonight was a chance to see if Chris Paul and the other new acquisitions could match-up with a more developed and deeper (Haslem is back) Miami team early in this season.
And the Clippers, as I’m guessing we’ve all heard, pulled out the ‘W’ last night. But was it really a statement win? I talked about why I think the answer to that question is a pretty solid, “No,” last night on the podcast. It would be fantastic if you would listen to that, by the way. But anyway, if you don’t want to hear my rant, the main idea is that the Clippers were still outrebounded (and surrendered an above-average offensive rebounding percentage to the Heat, who are not a good rebounding team), still had to count on a lot of luck against the opposing team’s best scorers (and bad decisions, which the Clippers’ defense admittedly helped to force). Missed free throws from LeBron saved the team last night on D (and great, great help from DeAndre Jordan all night long). And to reiterate a common issue so far this season, the transition defense still struggled (although that’s expected against Miami).
This was an ugly game, it was a bit of a fluke in terms of getting the win, and I really am not looking forward to what happens against the combination of Kobe, Bynum, and Pau on Saturday. But not everything about this game is something for me to kvetch about.
Because at least one player did make a statement this game, and you can probably guess who I’m talking about.
Chris Paul finally illustrated his ability to take over a game. I’ve protected Chris Paul so far this season in regards to his perceived passivity on offense. I talked about the need for teammates to step up, and the fact that Paul was being aggressive in terms of pursuing the smartest, most correct team-oriented plays and passes. But against the Heat, it was almost like Paul began to understand that usually, he’s going to be the best option on the floor. With DeAndre and Blake hanging out of the paint more often in pick-and-roll situations (which is strange), and with the likes of Butler, Billups, Mo Williams, and all the other supposed floor-spacers currently shooting below average 3-point percentages, Paul realized that he needed to seek his own offense against the Heat.
And despite the fact that Paul no longer finishes in the paint like he once did, he can still score pretty efficiently with the mid-range game we’re all going to be seeing a lot of. Paul was 6 of 7 from 16-23 feet out last night, and I think nearly every one of those attempts came off the dribble, breaking his man down, draining one of his patented step-backs.
Besides the willingness to let that jumper fly, Chris Paul finally managed to get to the line last night. So far this season, Paul’s free throw rate (free throw attempts/field goal attempts) has been almost half of what it was last season, and well below his career average. I assumed his free throw rate and attempts at the rim would be shown as having trended down ever since his knee surgery, but his free throw rate has consistently alternated between around .4 free throws per FGA and .3 free throws per FGA, pre and post-injury. However, his rim attempts did suffer from the injury (about 1 fewer per game), but the numbers (via HoopData) show us that we can expect Paul to start drawing more shooting fouls than he has been recently.
So anyway, the point of all this is that if Chris Paul wasn’t just taking on a more aggressive scoring persona because he was facing off against the best team in the NBA, we could see the Clippers finally hit on something closer to all cylinders on offense (and remember, the team is top-8 in the NBA in offensive efficiency as it stands). I feel like there’s a great chance that Paul’s heightened aggressiveness on offense could lead to renewed vigor on offense from Blake and DeAndre, who so far have actually been attempting slightly fewer shots at the rim than they did last season (although Blake is currently finishing at a better rate than he did last season).
Here’s hoping that Chris Paul’s effort against the Heat was the real statement of the game.