I read Steve's game recap early this morning titled "No Excuses", his later post on the loss of Chauncey Billups, and Andrew Sharp's feature about "Why the Clips Just Got Lucky". Now, these are two writers I really enjoy and generally agree with, but I am baffled by these assertions that the Clippers didn't lose much or might have enough ancillary pieces to fill the void left by the season-ending injury to Chauncey Billups. I'm doubly baffled by the notion that the Clippers didn't have an excuse in their loss to Cleveland last night or that the Cavaliers (temporary) loss of Kyrie Irving compares at all to the Clipper's loss of Chauncey Billups. Frankly, I would have been shocked if the Clippers won last night, especially in a close game with the score tied in the last few minutes. To my mind, the guy the Clippers needed more than anyone in that game not named Chris Paul was Chauncey Billups... even if he wasn't on the floor, even if he didn't take a shot.
You're Chris Paul, you're on a horse, you carry two six guns and a rifle strapped to your saddle and you're in a season-long range war. You're a noted tough guy, still young but one of the best of the best. You've tasted victory on occasion but you've fallen short, but then again you've never had a gang as good as the one you're riding with now. The young guys in your gang are good, real good, but still unproven. You've also got some other guys in your gang that have been there before. One guy, ole' Chauncey Billups rode out this season somewhat relucantly. He didn't want to be part of this youthful team, he wanted to call his own shots somewhere else. But you convinced him to hang around and he's become your number one sidekick, the guy who rides just to your right, he's become your second set of eyes, he's even, on occasion, filled in for you. Oh, he doesn't have all the ability he once did, Father Time has taken its toll, some of his skills have atrophied a bit, but not his brain. And he still carries that Mitchell-Johnson long range carbine, the one with all the notches in the gunstock, the one that no one else can even lift to their shoulder.
You ride into a valley and you scan the landscape, and you point and you say, "There, they'll come through that notch there. You, Blake, and you, DJ, you come with me, we'll pick and roll over here and hit them straight down the middle. Mo, go up that rise to the west and look for a shot. Caron, loop around the baseline and get behind them. Chauncey, I want you to go up that hill to the south- you might get a clean look--"
--And Chauncey, who's been scanning the landscape, doesn't shake his head, doesn't disagree, he simply nods and says, quietly, without ego, "I like that little knoll up on east. Figger I can look down and take 'em by surprise." You nod back at him because he's right. He's always right. He unslings his long rifle as the others take their positions. He looks at you and he says, "Don't worry CP, we got this one."
That's the way it usually goes. Oh, sometimes the boss ranchers, who are watching with their binoculars and their maps from the hills above the valley help you out with the plan but just as often you have to wing it. But with Chauncey at your side, the load's become lighter, the skirmishes have gone your way more often than not. He gives you confidence, gives you the benefits of his fifteen years in the saddle. He's your Sicilian, your wartime Consigliere. But it's not just his ability with that rifle, not just his brains, it's also that he doesn't second-guess you. He knows this is your gang and that you're the boss.
But last night it happened, in tough fight, Chauncey got caught in a hail of bullets and went down. You won that battle, then you strapped Chauncey on his horse and turned it back to the hills, knowing the horse will find his way and that Chauncey will be alright but also knowing that he's gone for the season. Gone for the duration of this particular war.
Tonight you're riding into another tough fight, oh hell, there all tough. But when you organize the boys and ready them for the final skirmish, there is no one thinking a little deeper, thinking about riding up that little knoll on the eastern rim and cutting them down with that long-range gun. Sure, you're Chris Paul, you're a bad ass, and you've got Blake Griffin, the raw kid with so much talent, who could one day run his own gang, but not this year. It's too soon. Tonight, for the first time this season, your sidekick, your extra brain, your most-trusted hand isn't riding with you.
And now you have to learn to win without him. Is that possible? Sure. Someone will fill the leadership void, you'll fill part of it yourself. Maybe someone will learn to work the long-bore rifle. Perhaps the boss ranchers back up on the hill will help you out, get a little smarter or find another outlaw to fill the space. But not tonight.
Tonight, you ride alone. Even with all your men behind you... you ride alone.