Paul is usually the first one to walk into the Clippers’ news conference room, located next to their locker room, where two cans of Red Bull are displayed on a table.
The Clippers and Griffin are both sponsored by Red Bull. Paul is not. So the first thing Paul will do once he sits down is grab the two cans and place them under the table. That is before Griffin walks in, always fashionably late, and puts them back on the table before dramatically opening a can into the microphone as if he were taping a commercial, and loudly taking one swig before putting the can down.
That’s usually the extent of Griffin’s consumption of the energy drink after Clippers games. It’s not like he needs much more. After all, Griffin and Paul hardly see the court at the end of games anymore. Griffin and Paul haven’t played in the fourth quarter of the past three games, or in four of the past five games, as the Clippers’ bench has turned the team’s starters into well-paid, towel-waving cheerleaders.
“I know through 20 games I’ve never played [fewer] minutes,” Paul said. “I’m ready to play. I shouldn’t have any arguments about being tired or anything like that. It’s fun. It’s a long season and there’s going to be games where you have to log 38 minutes and stuff like that. I want to play, but I’m also enjoying being out there and cheering on the guys that are out there playing.”
Paul is averaging a career-low 6.6 minutes per game in the fourth quarter and Griffin is averaging a career-low 5.5 minutes in the fourth quarter. Paul (33.4) and Griffin (32.5) are also averaging career lows in minutes played per game.
“To be able to sit the whole fourth quarter is something I’ve never experienced,” Griffin said. “I can definitely tell, it changes how you feel and how your body feels. We don’t really view them as a second team. We view them as the next wave of guys coming in. They do it for us night in and night out.”
The Clippers’ bench has been so productive in the fourth quarter of games this season thanks in large part to Jamal Crawford, the early favorite to win NBA Sixth Man of the Year. He is leading the NBA in bench scoring this season with an average of 17.9 points per game. He also is averaging an NBA-best 8.1 points in the fourth quarter; that’s more than Kobe Bryant (7.3) or Kevin Durant (6.4).
“That’s why this team was built this way,” Crawford said. “Seeing Chris, Blake, DeAndre [Jordan], Caron [Butler] and Chauncey [Billups] play heavy minutes and getting beat up last season, by the time the playoffs were here everybody was either injured or tired.”
That likely won’t be the case this season, with Paul, Griffin and the Clippers’ starters essentially playing three-fourths of the game, then cheering on their teammates in the final quarter.
“We don’t mind it all because we are a team and we are a family,” Paul said. “We like to see each other succeed. When you’re winning it’s pretty fun. It’s a lot of fun, actually. There’s nothing like seeing Ronny Turiaf’s energy out there. When you’ve got people as well-spirited as that on our team, how can you not cheer for L.O. [Lamar Odom]? How can you not cheer when Eric Bledsoe does something well or Jamal Crawford?”
It’s not as if the Clippers’ starters are simply handing blowout games off to their bench to close out. The Clippers were up only 77-73 on Sunday against the Toronto Raptors before the bench outscored the Raptors 25-10 in the fourth quarter and held them to just 15 percent shooting. On Saturday, the Clippers were up 85-83 on the Phoenix Suns before the Clippers’ second unit outscored the Suns 32-16 to finish the game.
While the Clippers’ starters are getting rested during games because of the team’s depth, practices and scrimmages have taken on a whole new level of competitiveness this season between “Lob City” and “A Tribe Called Bench.”
“We get into it in practice at times,” Paul said. “We have to remind each other that we’re all on the same team. This isn’t a situation where the first team is going to beat up [the second team] every day. It’s very competitive. I think that’s what makes us so good and so lethal and why we cheer for each other so much."
“In practice you always know it’s going to be a dogfight,” he added. “I’m going against Eric Bledsoe in practice every day. He’s guarding me. Think about how he steals the ball from guys out here. When I get in the game and I don’t have Eric Bledsoe on me, you almost feel like you’re in a rocking chair.”
Paul doesn't mind sitting on a rocking chair during games now. Neither does Griffin, or the other Clippers starters, who are as rested as they have ever been in their careers, thanks to a second unit that has been closing out games like a first unit this season.