Collison left the arena as the Clippers’ starting point guard, at least for the next three to five weeks, coach Doc Rivers’ estimated timetable for perennial All-Star Chris Paul's recovery from a separated right shoulder.
Collison wanted to show the Dallas Mavericks that they made a mistake giving up on him as their starting point guard last season. He hoped to make them regret, at least for one night, not attempting to re-sign him over the summer.
“I didn’t want to leave tonight without making a statement,” said Collison, who scored a season-high 20 points on 6-of-10 shooting and dished out four assists in 35 minutes to help the Clippers pull out a 119-112 win over the Mavs despite losing their leader Paul midway through the third quarter. “You play 82 games in a season; you can’t say you’re motivated for all 82 games, you know what I mean? You’re motivated because you want to win, but there’s always that one game that gets you ready, that you work hard for in the offseason.
“This is one of them.”
The 23-12 Clippers need this version of Collison on a consistent basis to keep rolling without Paul.
This isn’t the first time Collison has had to fill the figuratively large shoes of the NBA’s best little man. As a rookie, Collison started 37 games for the New Orleans Hornets while Paul was out due to a knee injury. Collison averaged 18.8 points and 9.1 assists in those starts, including a 35-point performance against Dallas in February 2010 that still stands as his career-high scoring total.
The Mavs hoped Collison would resemble the player who flashed brilliance as a rookie when they acquired him from the Indiana Pacers in the wake of Jason Kidd’s departure in the summer of 2012. However, the hope that Collison could be a rebuilding block didn’t last long in Dallas.
In fairness to Collison, he had the difficult task of trying to run a team that primarily consisted of one-year rental players forming a supporting cast for a hobbled Dirk Nowitzki, who missed the 27 games while recovering from arthroscopic knee surgery. Collison still took a large share of the blame for the 41-41 Mavs missing the playoffs after 12 consecutive postseason appearances. Dallas was 21-26 in games Collison started.
The 6-foot, 175-pound Collison put up decent numbers (12.0 points, 5.1 assists) during his lone season in Dallas, but his defensive flaws and crunch-time struggles caused him to fall out of favor with the Mavs. He twice lost his starting job to late-30s veterans the Mavs signed off the street, first for the couple of weeks that Derek Fisher stayed in Dallas and later to journeyman Mike James.
That didn’t help Collison’s cause in free agency. The Mavs made no effort to re-sign him, and Collison couldn’t find any suitors that saw him as a starter. He ended up setting for a two-year, $3.9 million deal and reserve role with the Clippers.
“I’m just glad I fell into a situation like the Clippers that’s given me the opportunity,” Collison said. “Now I have a chance to play for a contending team that’s going to give me a chance to play for something more special.”
The Clippers need Collison to be a solid starter over the next month or so to give them a legitimate chance to have home-court advantage for a round or two in the Western Conference playoffs. The intensity and aggressiveness Collison displayed during this trip to Dallas can’t be a one-game thing.
“The way D.C. was playing, it didn’t matter which one of those guys was out there tonight,” Mavs big man Brandan Wright said, referring to Collison and Paul.
The Clippers can’t reasonably expect Collison to produce like a point guard who has played in the past six All-Star Games. They have to hope, however, that Collison fares much better during this stint as a starter in L.A. than he did in Dallas.