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Chris Paul Returns With a Bang, Clippers Still Lose

Kelvin Kuo/USA TODAY Sports

After sitting out the Los Angeles Clippers’ last two games (and missing three of their last five), Chris Paul returned with a bang Thursday night, scoring a season-best 35 points on 13-of-22 shooting from the field. Unfortunately, Paul’s efforts didn’t matter in the long run, as Stephen Curry – who scored a game-high 40 points – and the Golden State Warriors proved that they are who we thought they are, overcoming a 23-point first-half deficit to improve to 13-0 on the young season.

Paul came out of the gates scorching hot, finishing the first quarter with 18 points on 7-for-7 shooting from the field, including three three-point field goals. With all of the trash-talking between these two teams leading up to the season and even over the last couple of seasons, CP3 and his teammates looked like they were going to blow out the defending champs, leading 41-25 after the first 12 minutes.

Then the Clippers, much like the Warriors did for the rest of the evening, proved that they too are who we thought they are. With J.J. Redick missing his third straight game, the Clippers inserted both Jamal Crawford and Paul Pierce into the starting lineup in an attempt to replace the threat of Redick’s shooting, keeping the struggling Lance Stephenson on the bench. Although Crawford finished the game with 15 points, good for third most on the team, Pierce proved that it doesn’t make a difference if he’s a starter or reserve, as he went 2-for-6 from the field for six points.

Just look at the horror on Montez from Workaholics’ (actor Erik Griffin) face:

As for Stephenson, the team’s big acquisition of the offseason, he racked up a DNP-CD after playing slightly under two minutes in the Clippers’ win over the Detroit Pistons last Saturday. On the season, Stephenson is posting a pedestrian line of 5.6 points, 3.0 rebounds and 1.9 assists per game, shooting 37 percent from the field in just over 20 minutes per game. Per Basketball-Reference, he’s posting a net rating of -25, somehow (my guess is because he’s played most of his minutes with the starters) accumulating an On-Off of +2.3.

It doesn’t tell the complete story to blame this loss on the Clippers’ lack of depth, as the Warriors showcased once again that they’re just a different animal, closing the game on a 25-8 run to clinch the win. However, it’s interesting to see that after an offseason of adding relatively big name players with red flags attached to them, the Clippers once again look like they have a great starting unit, with very little else.

Whether you want to blame Coach Doc Rivers or GM Doc Rivers – or even Dad Doc Rivers, his son Austin Rivers is often the first player off the bench despite posting a net rating of -10 in 52 games in Los Angeles, per Basketball-Reference – it’s downright awful that Paul and Blake Griffin look like they’re going to have to carry this team for another full season, just to be let down in the playoffs.

I don’t mean to be so melodramatic, but I touched on the lack of production from the bench two weeks ago, and there have been literally zero improvements since. I know it takes time to learn to play together and adjust to new roles, but Pierce looks painfully old one month into the season, the worst version of Josh Smith has been the only version we’ve seen so far and Stephenson looks like an odd-fitting piece, whose role is still TBD:

Look, the Clippers hung tight with the best basketball team we’ve seen in two decades, and aren’t playing losing basketball. This isn’t the same type of freak-out that’s rightfully taking place in Houston. With that said, when you have championship aspirations this lack of depth just isn’t going to cut it. This is definitely a situation worth monitoring, and revisiting once they’re at full health.

For now, we leave you with 23 seconds of struggle:

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