As Chris Paul and Chauncey Billups sat on the bench in suits, the Los Angeles Clippers starting backcourt smiled while watching protégé Eric Bledsoe slice and dice through the Memphis Grizzlies on Monday night.
Paul and Billups took the 23-year-old point guard under their wings as soon as they arrived in Los Angeles before last season and have seen the third-year point guard go from a raw talent to a polished player.
With Paul out Monday night due to a bruised right kneecap and Billups having only played three games this season as he deals with peroneal tendinitis in his left foot, Bledsoe started his first game of the season and only his second game during the past two seasons.
Bledsoe responded as Paul and Billups predicted he would. He posted 14 points, four rebounds, three assists, a pair of steals, a block and, just as important, zero turnovers in leading the Clippers to a 99-73 win. The 26-point margin was the largest ever for the Clippers over the Grizzlies.
Here are three takeaways from the game:
As talented and as deep as the Clippers are, most within the Clippers’ locker room will say Bledsoe is their secret weapon. He is an immensely talented point guard with a ceiling he hasn’t come close to reaching. In his first start of the season, Bledsoe showed why Paul and Billups have continued to refer to him as a starter despite only averaging about 18 minutes off the bench for the Clippers. Paul and Billups were in Bledsoe’s right and left ear on the bench and during timeouts, just like they usually are in practice. They always tell him to be aggressive and push the tempo, and he did just that from the opening tip Monday. Bledsoe also was a force on defense, with a couple of steals and a big block in the first half that helped turned the tide of the game early. “I did what I do,” Bledsoe said. “Come in, get blocks and get my teammates going, and play my type of game.”
Coach Vinny Del Negro was disgusted by the way the Clippers played defensively during their last two games at home before flying to Memphis. They escaped with a win over the Dallas Mavericks but weren’t able to hold on to a 13-point lead against the Orlando Magic. On Monday night, the Clippers turned in their best defensive performance of the season. They held Memphis to just 73 points, a season low for a Clippers opponent. They also held the Grizzlies to just 30.3 percent shooting from the field, which is their worst shooting performance in franchise history. And anyone who has followed the Grizzlies over the years can tell you they’ve had some bad shooting nights.
A Tribe Called Bench
The Clippers have been called the deepest team in the NBA by most opposing players and coaches who have played against them this season, but no game showcased this team’s depth quite like Monday’s win over Memphis. Playing without Paul and Billups, the Clippers not only defeated the Grizzlies, they embarrassed them. They went up by 19 points at the half and blew the game wide open to win by 26 points. As has been the case most of this season, much of the credit for the blowout goes to the Clippers’ second unit. Jamal Crawford and Matt Barnes scored 16 points apiece and all 11 players that got on the floor for the Clippers scored. The final plus/minuses for the Clippers’ reserves were off the charts, with Lamar Odom (plus-25), Crawford (plus-22), Barnes (plus-18), Grant Hill (plus-16) and Ronny Turiaf (plus-14) all in double digits. Bledsoe (plus-10) was the only Clippers starter in double figures.