Chauncey Billups' behind the back pass to DeAndre Jordan Tuesday night was a game changer, and if there's been a better pass in the NBA this season, I haven't seen it.
The Clippers did a lot of things well on offense against the Bobcats Tuesday night. They made 54% of their field goals, and shot slightly better than that from three point range. (Their free throw shooting was another matter entirely, but we'll ignore that for now.) But what they did especially well was share the ball.
As a team the Clippers had a season-high 34 assists. As you would expect, Chris Paul led the way with 13 dimes, but plenty of other guys got in on the act as well. Matt Barnes had a season-high seven assists and Blake Griffin continued his excellent play as a distributor with six more.
And don't forget about Chauncey Billups. With Eric Bledsoe resting a strained calf muscle and Jamal Crawford in Seattle for the birth of his baby girl, Billups was pressed into service in the position he's played most of his career. All of Chauncey's 169 minutes this season heading into the Charlotte game had been with Chris Paul on the floor, and while he has triggered the offense from time to time with Paul playing off the ball, there's really no question who the point guard is when Paul is in the game.
Against the Bobcats, when Paul was out of the game it was Billups running the show, and frankly, he looked a bit like he missed being in control. The guy is very effective as the Clippers shooting guard, if only because he's clearly the best pure shooter on the team. But he can still run the point as well, as he demonstrated Tuesday night.
Of his five assists, none were prettier than his behind the back dish to DeAndre Jordan for the jam. Hang on. That's not nearly effusive enough. The fact is, that pass was the best pass I've seen this season in any NBA game -- and I've watched 1529 minutes of Chris Paul.
It's hard to describe exactly how difficult that pass was, but I'll try. Here are some things you should know:
- He threw it with his off-hand. I know it's silly to compare myself to a professional athlete, but I've played a LOT of basketball and passing is one thing I've always done pretty well. I can't overstate how difficult it is to throw an accurate wrap around pass with your off-hand. Trust me. Or better yet, watch every basketball game for the remainder of the season, and make a note of it every time a player throws a wrap-around pass with his off-hand. Very few NBA players throw passes of any kind with their weak hand, but Steve Nash, Ricky Rubio and Paul are the only other players I can think of off the top of my head who would even consider throwing this pass. Rajon Rondo, the league-leader in assists for three straight seasons, is almost exclusively right-handed as a passer. By the way, this was one of two left-handed behind the back passes Billups threw during the game, and both were delivered right on the money.
- It was in no way gratuitous. The play started with a turnover, and Billups found himself in a foot race with three Bobcats. He realized that he was not going to outsprint 19-year-old uber-athlete Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, so he held up around the free throw line. As the Bobcat defenders slowed up as well, Jordan sprinted by just to Billups left, and came free at the rim. But a pass to the left of MKG is heading right at DJ's back, so Billups had to throw the pass from the other side to create a catchable angle -- and he had to do it in the split second that the pass was available, because DJ would be under the basket in another instant. This wasn't pure flash "look what I can do" -- Billups reacted to an opportunity and instinctively threw an incredibly difficult pass, not because he could, but because his teammate was open.
- It was a risky pass and probably ill-advised. I'll be honest, my immediate reaction when the pass left his hand was a gasp of "NO!" I knew what he was doing, but I didn't think there was any way that DeAndre would make the catch. It's just not a pass anyone would be expecting, and although it wasn't a perfectly clean catch, Jordan deserves a ton of credit for finishing the play -- not a lot of seven footers could have. It helped that the pass was essentially perfect, hitting DJ right in the hands, but more often than not I'd say that pass winds up being a turnover. Lost in the spectacular nature of the pass itself is the major significance of the play in the context of the game. The Clippers were down 42-41 with four minutes left in the first half. They had trailed the entire game to that point, playing catchup following Charlotte's red-hot start. With a chance to take the lead for the first time, that was a very risky pass in a big situation. Imagine if the Clippers had squandered a fast break with a turnover with a chance to take the lead? One of the reasons Chris Paul hasn't thrown as spectacular a pass this season (in my opinion) is that he is not a big risk taker which is why he doesn't turn the ball over much. Did you happen to notice the difference between the passes he threw in the All Star Game versus what he does with the Clippers? When the games count, Paul likes to go for the simple pass (and in fact he often makes great passes look simple). This pass was high-risk -- but oh-me-oh-my, it was also high reward, and this play became the one that ignited the Clippers, starting a 50-21 Clippers run.
If you can think of a better pass that has been thrown this season, I'd love to hear about it. Maybe I'm forgetting something. I'll go look through some top ten lists of the season so far to try to find other candidates. But I doubt I'm going to see a better pass, maybe for a very long time.