We have to start with this disclaimer — it was a preseason game. Which means about as much as an autographed Derek Jeter baseball. Actually, less.
That said, Chris Paul had 17 points, nine assists, seven rebounds and five steals and was a +24 against the Lakers in his first game as a Clipper. He was everything advertised and then some — silky smooth and smart.
The Lakers had big men like Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol hedge out hard on him on the pick-and-roll, yet Paul seemed unfazed and just picked apart the Lakers defense. The Lakers turned the ball over 21 times so the Clippers had plenty of transition opportunities, and you knew Paul and his running mates would be good there.
The Clippers were putting on the show, they were fun to watch. The Lakers looked like a team with 10 days of practice with a new coach.
It should be noted that the Lakers interior defense was solid but they were terrible on the perimeter (Mike Brown even called out Kobe Bryant after the game). Paul and the Clipper guards exploited this mercilessly (13 of 28 from three). Chauncey Billups had a game high 23 points and looked comfortable as the two guard. (The Lakers played defense with the intensity of the team that was swept out of the playoffs by Dallas.)
Again, one meaningless preseason game — even Brian Cook looked good for the Clips, you know that is not going to last — but this Chris Paul thing could work out very, very well in Los Angeles.
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Kobe Bryant actually is pretty spot on here — the lockout really was about the owners fighting amongst themselves as much as it was about anything else. And when those owners saw the big market, powerhouse Lakers about to land Chris Paul they flipped out — that is what killed the first three-team deal where Paul landed with the Lakers.
The Hornets got a better deal out of it, so David Stern will undoubtedly try to claim the higher ground here, but this was a an ugly, conflicted mess where there is no higher ground.
As for Kobe… he’s likes his challenges.
Chris Paul is not backing down from the challenge.
Clippers nation is dreaming of having their own banner hanging up at Staples Center, something that doesn’t look like the JV next to what the other team in the building has enshrined. The Clippers are not just dreaming of respectability — that came with Blake Griffin — they are thinking big.
And Paul is good with that, as he said at his introductory press conference (via the Los Angeles Times).
“I’m excited to bring a championship here to L.A. in a Clippers uniform,” Paul said. “Knowing that they’ve never won a championship here, I wanted to be a part of something like that.”
“I know about the history of the franchise and different things like that,” Paul said. “But this decision wasn’t about the past. It was about the present and about the future.”
He said all the right things.
But the pressure is still on the Clippers organization. They need depth to go around their stars now, and particularly depth along the front line. They need to play defense at an elite level, which means DeAndre Jordan has to mature. Vinny Del Negro needs to prove he can coach a team up to that level. And Donald Sterling has to foot the bill and then stay out of the way — and out of the locker room — and not screw this all up.
But this Clippers team suddenly looks like a squad that in a couple years could be a threat to win it all, to put their own banner up in Staples Center. And Chris Paul is not backing away from that.