A lot of people are talking about the recent 0-3 stretch on the Clippers’ road trip, ending in a blowout loss at Atlanta.
This is still one of the deepest and most talented teams in the league. It’s a very long NBA season, one where speed bumps in November/December are usually conducive to success in April/May. Clipper fans shouldn’t be alarmed.
In the big picture, the Los Angeles Clippers will go as far as their floor leader takes them.
Chris Paul is the NBA’s best bipolar NBA superstar…he has two personalities. There’s the friendly and polite guy (let’s call him “Chris“) who wouldn’t hurt a fly, let alone another human being. He’s the kind of guy that girls want to take home to meet their mothers. Then there’s the alter ego (let’s call him “CP3″), a nasty competitor who’ll do anything to win…..anything. I’m surprised Paul’s family can even watch him play. It’s a real life Jekyll & Mr. Hide thang…and it works for him.
Paul is as ubiquitous a player as there is in the league. He controls the action on offense, on defense, in the huddles, and in the locker room. His voice is the one constant at a Clippers game (sorry Darrell). It’s heard from the moment he arrives at the game to the minute he leaves the parking lot. Paul’s NBA identity is that of a feisty little guy who dominates the ball and is in everyone’s ear out on the floor, the opposition included. CP3 mixes it up with opposing players on practically every possession, whether it be exploiting a pick ‘n roll trap or dribbling into a ‘big’ in transition.
Over the past six months, though, I’ve noticed a change in Chris Paul. When he faces guys who he considers to be good friends, the mean CP3 disappears and the angelic Chris takes over. Paul loses that edge that makes him a superstar player.
In the playoffs last year, the Clippers beat Memphis in seven heated games which featured countless moments of CP3 in the face of Grizzlies players. It was Isiah Thomas reborn. He was going to do anything to advance. In the second round, versus San Antonio, Paul then faced one of his better friends in the league…Tony Parker. From the opening tip of Game 1, I noticed a different player…Chris was in charge. The point guard was subdued and lacking that fire to ‘win at all costs’. The Clippers were quickly swept by the Spurs in four games.
This season, the Clippers have exacted revenge on the Spurs…twice. First was a blowout victory in Los Angeles. Chris only needed to contribute 10 points and 12 assists in the comfortable win, but didn’t record one steal…a rare occurrence. The second win, a close game down in San Antonio, saw Paul make some big plays down the stretch. He finished with 19 points, 8 assists, and 4 rebounds. But still, I didn’t see the disdain and venom I usually see from Paul. The guy was too docile for my tastes.
Few players are closer in the NBA than Lebron James and Chris Paul. So, when the Clippers hosted the Miami Heat recently, it was another chance for me to gauge Paul’s demeanor against an opponent he had ‘luv’ for. Again, it was the friendly and respectful Chris…helping guys up and not looking to engage his foes verbally. While the Clippers won the game, taking advantage of Miami on their long west coast trip, I didn’t like what I saw. It was the quietest 16 points, 10 assists, and 4 steals in NBA history.
With his talent and current supporting cast, the jovial and friendly Chris will still lead the Los Angeles Clippers to a spectacular record and great playoff seeding. But, to win 4 out of 7 games against another talented team in the postseason, the ‘Clips’ need an angry, mean floor general. They need CP3.
When the playoffs start, Vinny Del Negro should steal a line from his mentor Gregg Popovich…..I want some nasty.