But oddly enough, the Clippers haven't missed a beat when either Chris Paul or Blake Griffin is out of the lineup with a long-term injury. A 108-91 demolition of the Washington Wizards Tuesday moved the Clippers to 23-12 over the last two-plus seasons with either Paul or Griffin out due to a significant injury.
The Clippers went 12-6 in 18 games Paul missed in 2013-14 with a shoulder injury and 9-6 in 15 games Griffin missed with a staph infection last season. They're now 2-0 thus far this season with Griffin sidelined due to a partially torn quad that'll keep him out for a couple weeks. (There have been a handful of other games missed between the two players, but this specifically focuses on the long-term injuries.)
That 23-12 mark is good for a .657 winning percentage, which isn't far off from the .673 overall mark the Clippers have put up over this time frame. How has Los Angeles managed to keep up when its stars have missed extended time?
1. Each has stepped up with the other out
Naturally, great players often take it upon themselves to raise their level of play when their fellow stars are sidelined. That's certainly been the case with Paul and Griffin.
Here's how Griffin performed in 2013-14 when Paul was out those 18 games, compared to his full season numbers:
|Griffin w/o Paul||27.5||8.2||4.4||55.4||31.1|
|Griffin full season||24.1||9.5||3.9||52.8||29.0|
With Paul out, Griffin is afforded the chance to initiate the offense more often, whether that's for himself or for his teammates. He still gets plenty of opportunities to do so with Paul healthy, but having the ball in his hands more often helps him find a groove as both a scorer and playmaker. Thus, even with an uptick in usage without Paul, Griffin scored more efficiently.
Griffin's playmaking is one of the more underrated parts of his game. He can facilitate from the low and high post, and it's quite a luxury when your power forward can lead a fast break and find an open shooter. Without Paul to handle the ball, the Clippers lean on these Griffin skills more heavily.
Paul also upped his game during Griffin's staph infection absence, although his long-distance shooting took a bit of a hit:
|CP3 w/o Griffin||20.5||12.0||4.4||50.8||33.3||25.1|
|CP3 full season||19.1||10.2||4.6||48.5||39.8||23.4|
Even though Paul's three-point percentage was down, his true shooting percentage barely dipped even with the rise in usage. He made a killing with his deadly mid-range game, and while some of this was a function of some unusually hot shooting, running more pick-and-rolls with an excellent screen-and-roller in DeAndre Jordan also helps give him better looks.
Paul propped up the Clippers' attack during this stretch, as they were 17.6 points per 100 possessions better offensively with him on the floor compared to when he was on the bench, per NBA.com. That huge number can be partially explained by the poor bench play, but his own ability to thrive with the ball in his hands more often allowed Los Angeles to run an elite unit even without Griffin. Paul no longer has to share playmaking with Griffin, so his passing skills shine through even more.
Paul has played well in the two games Griffin has missed this season, averaging 21 points and nine dimes while shooting 47 percent from the field, so it doesn't look like much will change this time around.
2. The DeAndre Jordan Factor
The constant throughout all this is the presence of Jordan, who hasn't missed a game since the 2010-11 season. His numbers sans CP3 in 2013-14 weren't dramatically different from his overall numbers, but he stepped up in a big way last year when Griffin was out. Jordan averaged nearly 15 points and 19 rebounds during that stretch, and six of those rebounds were on the offensive end, giving a dangerous unit (even without Griffin) more opportunities to score. The three most-used lineups during this stretch all scored at least 114 points per 100 possessions, with Jordan effectively playing the role of the single pick-and-roll dive man surrounded by shooters:
As excellent as Griffin is, putting three-point shooting around a Paul-Jordan pick-and-roll is a deadly way to operate as well. With 38-year-old Paul Pierce showing more of a pulse recently, the Clippers are able to create that kind of look with Pierce replacing Griffin. Wizards point guard John Wall noted how tough the Clippers' smaller lineups can be to defend on Tuesday:
Wall said facing Clippers when smaller was tougher b/c of spacing for PnR. "It probably would’ve been a little easier with Blake in there."— Jorge Castillo (@jorgeccastillo) December 29, 2015
That's a bold statement, but it makes sense. Look how open the lane is on this early pick-and-roll that resulted in an easy dunk for Jordan under the basket:
With the other three players set up outside the three-point line, the Wizards help defenders have a long way to travel. Griffin usually sets up shop closer to the basket, which can cramp the spacing and make it harder for Jordan to roll into dunks.
On the other end of the floor, Jordan can anchor these smaller units because he can cover so much ground and gobbles up defensive rebounds with ease.
Historically, there's been little difference in the Clippers' defense with Jordan on the court versus without him, but that likely wouldn't be the case if he ever missed significant time. The Clippers simply don't have another player who could effectively replicate his skill set for long stretches, especially with Griffin also out.
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The Clippers are a better team when all their stars are healthy, and they'd certainly have almost no chance at a championship if Paul or Griffin were sidelined in the postseason.
But Los Angeles has proven time and time again that they can survive with one of them sidelined. Both of them are extremely skilled and can help make up for the absence of the other, and the stable presence of Jordan in the middle helps them keep it all together.
At the same time, perhaps the Clippers' success without one of their core pieces also reveals that the on-court synergy between them isn't as ideal as it seems.
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SB Nation presents: DeAndre Jordan posterizes Greg Monroe