Confident Blake Griffin, Healthy Chris Paul Make Clippers Pretty Darn Imposing

Ben LeibowitzCorrespondent IIIFebruary 13, 2014

Nov 18, 2013; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Clippers power forward Blake Griffin (32) and point guard Chris Paul (3) during the first quarter against the Memphis Grizzlies at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports
Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sport

Los Angeles Clippers All-Star big man Blake Griffin blossomed as an NBA player with Chris Paul sidelined, and now that his floor general is back in the lineup, the Clips are more dangerous than they’ve ever been before.

The Clippers' dynamic duo led their teammates to a 122-117 home win against the upstart Portland Trail Blazers on Feb. 12. The Clips will head into the NBA All-Star break on a high note as a result.

Griffin finished with 36 points and 10 rebounds, while Paul poured in 20 points, 12 assists, four rebounds and three steals.

In CP3’s absence, as he recovered from a separated shoulder, Griffin put the Clippers on his shoulders.

L.A. compiled a 12-6 record prior to Paul’s return. The power forward out of Oklahoma averaged 27.5 points and 8.2 rebounds per contest during that stretch. In a Feb. 5 loss against the two-time defending champion Miami Heat, Griffin notched 43 points, 15 rebounds and six assists.

He’s been showing off advanced post moves, draining mid-range jumpers with regularity and even putting up a respectable 70.2 percent shooting clip at the charity stripe—a career high.

Quite frankly, he has taken his game to a new level in 2013-14. Regardless of whether or not the 28-year-old point guard is in the lineup beside him, he’s made a point to dominate with an array of skills.

But while Griffin flourished as the team’s No. 1 option and alpha dog with added opportunity and responsibility, the Clippers’ championship aspirations depend upon the tandem of both him and Paul.

In two games since Paul’s comeback from injury—back-to-back wins against the Philadelphia 76ers and Portland Trail Blazers—Griffin is averaging 31 points, 10.5 rebounds and 3.5 assists while shooting 68.6 percent from the field.

He’s getting plenty of easy looks now that the All-Star floor general is wreaking havoc and drawing attention from defenders. Due to the added confidence Blake gained in recent weeks, the Clippers appear well on their way to making a title run in the loaded Western Conference.

The Clippers rank second in the league by scoring 106.7 points per game. That trails only the Trail Blazers, who score 107.7 per contest. Unlike Portland, however—a team that ranks 26th in opponent points allowed—the Clips have been respectable on the defensive end of the floor.

They allow opponents to shoot just 44.1 percent from the floor, ranking them seventh in the NBA. And while the Trail Blazers lit them up from behind the arc by draining 13 of 31 threes (41.9 percent), “Lob City” actually entered the night holding opponents to a league-best 32.3 percent clip from distance.

On top of those stats, the Clippers' defensive efficiency (points allowed per 100 possessions) sits at 101.8—eighth-best in the Association.

As the old adage goes, defense wins championships.

NBA Champions on Defense
Year:Champion:Opponent PPG:NBA Rank:
2012-13Miami Heat95 PPG5th
2011-12Miami Heat92.5 PPG4th
2010-11Dallas Mavericks96 PPG10th
2009-10Los Angeles Lakers97 PPG9th
2008-09Los Angeles Lakers99.3 PPG13th
2007-08Boston Celtics90.3 PPG2nd
2006-07San Antonio Spurs90.1 PPG1st
2005-06Miami Heat96 PPG14th
2004-05San Antonio Spurs88.4 PPG1st
2003-04Detroit Pistons84.3 PPG1st

As you can see, the previous 10 NBA teams that went on to win a title finished no lower than 14th in opponent points per game.

That’s an alarming stat for the Trail Blazers, who have struggled to defend anyone this season. For the Clippers, however, their great offense has been balanced out with an above-average defense. That makes them an extremely potent and imposing threat to other teams in the Western Conference.

In fact, following Wednesday's win over the Trail Blazers, the Clippers now sport a healthy 8-6 record against Western Conference teams in playoff position. They're 20-9 overall against conference foes.

Griffin and Paul will continue to lead the way for head coach Doc Rivers' crew. They're the two All-Stars that set the tone on offense and defense, and when they're clicking together, the Clippers become an extremely difficult team to beat.