When Chauncey Billups injured his Achilles tendon against the Orlando Magic on Monday night, the Los Angeles Clippers' chances for an NBA title quietly dissipated as well.
Behind all of Blake Griffin's explosive dunks and Chris Paul's undeniable talent lies Chauncey Billups, a seasoned veteran who has seen absolutely everything on a basketball court.
What Billups brought to the table for the Clippers this season was experience, leadership, stingy defense and a winning attitude.
Just ask a New York Knicks fan how much Billups meant for their team. In hindsight, letting Billups go was probably the biggest mistake for the Knicks. He was absolutely clutch last season for the Knicks and was a major defensive piece for a team that is currently struggling mightily on that side of the ball.
When the Clippers signed Billups, it didn't generate the headlines that the Chris Paul trade; not even a fraction of it. However, it was just as valuable a signing for the team.
While Paul made them a contender, adding Billups to the mix made them a team that was going to battle the Oklahoma City Thunder in the Western Conference Finals and perhaps put up a fight against LeBron James' Miami Heat in June.
Now that Billups is out for the season, the Clippers lose their elder statesman. In times of crisis, a guy like Billups is unbelievably valuable to ensure that the team continues to set their eyes on the prize of winning an NBA title.
The 35-year-old guard flies under the radar, only earning $2 million this year. His value, though, is immeasurable. This season he was averaging 15 points and four assists per game, but it's the intangibles the Clippers will most.
With 14 years of NBA experience, he's the only man on the Clippers roster with a ring. He's a proven winner who seems to get better when the times get tougher. That's the type of players teams need to win championships.
This isn't to say that the Clippers will fade away from the playoff picture and fall into a downward spiral.
They have enough talent to be a top-four seed in the Western Conference and possibly even win two series.
That being said, without Chauncey it's hard to see the team getting past Oklahoma City or Miami and it's not just because of his leadership skills.
The Clippers currently allow 97 points per game. As great as they are offensively, they're just as bad defensively. That total is the seventh-highest in the league, which is atrocious for a playoff team and the reason why it's not worse is because of Billups' great defense.
He plays both sides of the ball exceptionally well and has averaged a steal per game throughout his career. Expect the team to allow more points now that Billups is gone.
One man that can reverse that statement is Kenyon Martin, who the Clippers recently acquired.
Like Billups, he's a NBA veteran who now needs to take over as the elder statesmen of the team. His size and strength should help the team defensively.
Most importantly, this time of crisis will show how much of a leader Chris Paul is. Elite stars play even better during times of crises. Can Paul lift his team to glory? And can the coaching staff find a way to get their players to play defense without Billups?
These questions will be unraveled as the season progresses, but for now the Clippers get ready for game one without Billups at Cleveland.
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