Can Clippers Limit Chris Paul’s Minutes Again In Game 4?


May 8, 2015; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Clippers guard Chris Paul (3) moves the ball against the defense of Houston Rockets forward Trevor Ariza (1) during the first half in game three of the second round of the NBA Playoffs. at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Chris Paul has played just 23 minutes in the second round against the Houston Rockets, and the Los Angeles Clippers still lead the series 2-1. In order to rest Paul back to full health, can L.A. afford to limit his playing time again in game four?

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After Blake Griffin’s triple double in game one and Austin Rivers’ sudden 25 point burst in game three, the Clippers have secured an early series lead. And seeing as their opponent has the MVP runner-up, you can’t say they haven’t impressed. It was only James Harden’s 32 points and the Rockets’ 42 made free throws in game two that got the best of the Clippers, and even then they only scraped by with a six point win.

It’s safe to say that the Paul or no Paul, the Clippers have been playing better during the 2014-15 NBA playoffs than most expected they would. So, as we approach game four, can they continue to ride the excellent performance of the rest of the team to assure that CP3 is at full health for the end of this series?

In terms of value, Chris Paul is by far one of the most important players in the league. Not just because he’s an eight time All-Star, but because of how much impact he has at both ends of the floor.

His relentless perimeter defense has allowed him to lead the NBA in steals per game six times, making him a four time All-Defensive first team member in the process. As a result of his offense (he’s lead the league in assists four times), Paul has also ranked within the top seven for player efficiency every year since 2007.

As point guards go, there aren’t any in the league today with better credentials than Chris Paul. And no matter how much of a show Stephen Curry can put on, CP3 is the best there is.

For the Clippers this year, Paul has been at the top of his game yet again. With his 19.1 points and 10.2 assists per game, he’s accounted for 40.2 percent of L.A.’s offense.

Although, despite how much he offers to the Clippers, can they go another game against the Rockets with him playing limited minutes?

Per Arash Markazi of ESPN, Paul has said the following about how he feels for game four:

"“I’m cool, I’m good, I’ll be ready… There’s no speculation, probable or questionable. I’m playing” Paul said. And when discussing his performance in game three, he added “I tried to pick my spots as well as possible, but we still played through Blake [Griffin] as we should. He’s been our MVP in this series and we’re going to keep playing through him like we do.”"

They may have lost game two, but only losing by six points on the road, when they surrendered 64 free throw attempts to the Rockets, says an awful lot about how everyone has been stepping up in the absence of Paul. As well as Griffin dominating (25.1 points, 13.5 rebounds and 7.3 assists per game during the playoffs) in so many different ways, he’s become even more vocal as a leader when taking control of the offense.

He’s run the team through his ability to facilitate from the top of the key, and it’s allowed L.A. to adjust to playing without Paul as well as possible, especially during playoff circumstances.

Even when Paul returned in game three, Austin Rivers still rose to the occasion with a career playoff high 25 points as the Clippers torched the Rockets 124-99. Rivers’ confidence has continued to grow throughout the postseason, and it resulted in him making 10 of his 13 shots including a stretch in the final minutes of the third quarter where he converted two and-ones.

May 8, 2015; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Clippers center DeAndre Jordan (6) and guard Jamal Crawford (11) congratulate guard Austin Rivers (25) against the Houston Rockets during the second half in game three of the second round of the NBA Playoffs. at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Without Paul in game one, the Clippers were still able to win the game through not just Griffin’s triple double (26 points, 14 rebounds, 13 assists) but with their ball movement. The distribution of Blake — as he dishes the ball to both sides of the court from the top of the key, or hands off to guards at the perimeter — was the main factor, but the Clippers still finished the game with 31 assists.

In game two, they only finished with 20 assists. And arguably their weaker ball movement and slower pace of the game was a reason for their loss.

Yes, the Rockets’ 42 made free throws hurt L.A., but it didn’t just give them a ton of points — it prevented the Clippers from capitalizing on fast breaks and playing at a pace they’re comfortable with.

Essentially, the Clippers have still been a strong team without Paul. Blake has played with the kind of aggression that has taken his interior scoring and rebounding to another level, and he’s more than capable of running the offense in both the half court and when he takes control on fast breaks.

With this kind of performance from Griffin, and the possibility that Rivers can step up in comparison to how he’s played at times in the regular season, it makes sense that the Clippers limit Paul’s playing time tonight.

They’ve fared very well without him, and until he’s back at 100 percent, he doesn’t need to be rushed into playing 35+ minutes again. Unless the Rockets suddenly take over, there’s no reason to use Paul for much more than 20 minutes tonight.

Next: Glen Davis Fined $5,000 For Flop In Game 3