The Los Angeles Clippers are 6-6 in games that Chris Paul has missed due to injury this season. That's a good indication of how important Paul is to a team that is 33-12 when he does play. An even better indication is what happens when Paul plays, but doesn't play well.
When Paul has been bad this season, the Clippers have lost. Fortunately, Chris Paul does not play poorly very often, but recently he's had two of the worst games of his entire career, certainly the two worst since he became a Clippers. Paul has 268 career double-doubles where he has posted double figures in both scoring and rebounding. On the other end of the spectrum, he now has four career games he which he has had four or fewer points and assists. Four. The first one occurred in 2005, about five weeks into his NBA career, and the second one occurred in 2007. The next two have occurred in the Clippers last six games, both of them losses not surprisingly.
Against Miami earlier this month and against San Antonio again last night, Paul was unrecognizable. In the Miami game the presumption was that he was rusty and not yet at game speed after a prolonged injury absence. Last night perhaps it was an All Star MVP hangover. Or maybe that was Cliff Paul out there and not Chris. Whatever -- the performances defy explanation and defy reason. There's no point in overanalyzing it because these are very rare events. Besides, the Clippers clearly can't win when he plays this poorly, so the analysis is pretty simple. Paul can't play like crap if the Clippers hope to compete for a title.
In games in which Paul has shot under 25% this season, the Clippers are 0-4. Unfortunately, those performances have come against some key opponents. The Clippers are trying to join a group of three elite teams at the top of the league, the Heat, the Spurs and the Thunder, but three of Paul's worst games have come against those teams. The fourth came against the Warriors, the second place team in the Pacific Division.
There's no reason to overreact to such a small subset of games. I'll leave it to Charles Barkley to declare Tony Parker the best point guard in the NBA based on a sample size of one. Frankly, as well as San Antonio played last night, it's hard to imagine the Clippers beating them even with Paul at his best.
But at the same time, it's impossible to imagine the Clippers competing in the playoffs with Chris Paul at his worst. The good news about a loss like last night is that it's a single game. It doesn't mean anymore in the standings than an overtime loss, and it's almost easier to put the loss behind you when it's so lopsided. More importantly, Paul is just not going to have another 4 point, 3 assist, 3 turnover night.
And if he does, the Clippers are going to lose.