Thus far, the Los Angeles Clippers and Golden State Warriors have played to a 1-1 tie in their opening round playoff series. After suffering a narrow 109-105 loss at home in Game 1 on Saturday, L.A. throttled Golden State in a 138-98 rout on Monday. The 138 points scored by the team were a franchise record – as was the 40-point margin of victory for a playoff game.
If the Clippers want to win the series, though, they’ll almost certainly need star guard Chris Paul.
Paul has been dealing with a hamstring injury since the first game of the series. While he’s fought through it, he’s also showing some signs of wear. The guard has missed the last two days of practice and while he’s vowed to suit up in Game 3 on Thursday, it’s clear he’s not healthy.
Paul has played in both postseason games this year, but hasn’t quite been himself, either. Overall, Paul is stuffing the box score as you would expect from him. He had a huge all-around game on Saturday in the opener with 28 points, eight assists, seven rebounds, and four steals. In limited action in the Game 2 blowout, he still managed 12 points and 10 assists to go along with five steals. A closer look, though, reveals that he’s also struggling a bit against the Warriors’ backcourt.
While he has accounted for a large part of the team’s production, he’s struggling a little while shooting the ball as evidenced by his 14-of-33 output from the field. The 42.4 percent he’s shooting is manageable, but significantly below his regular season average of nearly 47 percent. In a limited sample size, he’s also connected on only 62.5 percent of his free throw attempts – buoyed by a 3-for-6 night in that opening-game loss, when they could have made a big difference.
In addition, over the two games, Paul has committed an uncharacteristic 11 turnovers. Even though he’s actually played fewer minutes over the two playoff contests, that 5.5 average per night is more than double his regular-season average of 2.3 per game.
Paul isn’t playing poorly, per se … but he’s not the same player he was during the season, either.
All in all, Los Angeles needs Paul’s offense. While he’s not shooting as well as he’s used to, he’s still finding ways to score. However, if he’s not 100 percent, the Clippers still need him on the court for his defense. Mostly guarding sharpshooter Stephen Curry, Paul has done a good job on the other end, holding the star to ‘only’ 19 points a game – more than five below his season average. Los Angeles can ill afford to lose Paul because of his offense, but he’s equally as important on defense.
In what was expected to be a close series anyway, the Clippers already have their backs up against the wall. Having dropped Game 1, they’ve lost home court advantage. Now with Paul less than 100 percent, winning the series is going to be even more difficult.