Chris Paul has a list of firsts he’d like to achieve with the Los Angeles Clippers. It’s an ever-growing, ever-changing list that comes from talking with longtime Clippers employees, such as Ralph Lawler, who has been the team's play-by-play man for 34 years.
Paul will usually check to see if the Clippers have a certain losing streak against a team or haven't won in an arena, in the hopes of snapping each one during the course of the season. Sometimes, like on Wednesday, the milestones are small, but nevertheless important, as Paul continually tries to change the team's culture.
The Clippers had already started the season 3-0 on the road for the first time since 1996, but could have started 4-0 for the first time in team history with a victory against the Oklahoma City Thunder on Wednesday. If Paul ends up re-signing with the Clippers in the offseason, he can add that to his list next season considering the Clippers lost 117-111 to Kevin Durant & Co. in overtime. It was not only the Clippers' first road loss of the season, but it snapped a six-game winning streak and was their first loss against a playoff-caliber team following wins against the San Antonio Spurs (twice), Memphis Grizzlies, Miami Heat, Atlanta Hawks and Los Angeles Lakers.
Here are three takeaways from the game:
Testing the depth
There are many reasons for Clippers’ success to start the season, but the biggest may be their depth. Their second unit has helped the Clippers jump out to leads of at least 20 points in five of their past seven games and has been so good late in games that the starters have turned into well-paid spectators in the fourth quarter. Injuries, however, have tested the Clippers’ depth early on. They were already playing without Chauncey Billups and Grant Hill before Caron Butler was ruled out Wednesday with a shoulder injury. Butler's injury forced Matt Barnes into the starting lineup, and he responded with his best game of the season, finishing with 19 points, nine rebounds and four steals. The problem is Barnes' productivity wasn't replaced on the bench as Lamar Odom, who is still not in shape, finished with four points and eight rebounds. It was Odom's best game of the season, which really says more about his season than anything else. But Jamal Crawford and Eric Bledsoe once again stepped up, combining for 31 points and playing crucial minutes late in the game.
Paul’s rough night
There might not be a better leader in the NBA than Paul, but he struggled mightily from the field Wednesday. He was only 2-of-14 from the field and missed the potential game winner at the end of regulation. Paul, who hit only one shot in regulation, had some uncharacteristically poor plays late in the game, including a missed layup in a crowded paint with less than two minutes left and throwing the ball away on a pass in the paint in overtime. He was the constant voice of encouragement on the bench during the fourth quarter and could be heard on television screaming, "It's fourth quarter. It's winning time!" And huddling the team during a time out and saying, "We're going to win the game, you feel me? We're going to win the game!" The Clippers came close, but Paul was not able to get them over the hump on this night.
The Clippers no longer take solace in moral victories or playing well in a losing effort, but there’s something to be said for the way the Clippers fought back on the road, trailing by nine points in the fourth quarter. The Clippers never led in the game but battled back and tied it, then had a chance to win it with the ball in Paul's hands at the end of regulation. You can't really ask for much more than that. The fact the Clippers were able to come back despite that Barnes had as many points (10) as Paul and Blake Griffin in the fourth quarter once again speaks to the Clippers' depth. But the Clippers need more production from their top two players in the closing minutes if they're going to win tight games on the road. In the overtime period, it was DeAndre Jordan (five points) outscoring Paul and Griffin (four points). As much as you like to see Jordan developing his offensive game, these are the moments when the Clippers need to have Paul and Griffin taking over.