The Clippers defeated the Pacers 99-91 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on Thursday, improving to 42-18 on the season. The Pacers dropped to 36-22 with the loss.
By Ben Golliver
• Chris Paul's complete performance in leading the Clippers to a road win over the Pacers made for some tidy fractions.
It doesn't get much cleaner than this: the Clippers are now 36-12 with Paul in the line-up this season and 6-6 without him. When the NBA's best point guard suits up, the Clippers have won exactly 75 percent of their games, a percentage topped only by the Spurs this season. When Paul sits, the Clippers are merely .500. With him, they are outside title contenders. Without him, it's quite possible that they would be a lottery team in a deep Western Conference.
There are so many positive virtues to pick from when it comes to pinpointing the Paul effect, but on Thursday it was his stabilizing presence down the stretch. Nobody controls a game's late action quite like him and he emerged in this game following large fourth-quarter runs by both teams. First, it was the Clippers second-unit that went on an 11-1 run early in the final period, turning a tight game into a 17-point lead. The Pacers didn't fold up the tent, though, rattling off a 13-0 run of their own, highlighted by two three-pointers from Paul George, to cut the deficit back down to four with 2:45 left.
From that point forward, Paul slammed the door shut on the comeback. Operating from the top of the arc, he effortlessly worked his way to his spots on three consecutive possessions, hitting a mid-range jumper, a lay-up on the move and then a runner in some traffic. Two icing free throws made it a game-high 29 points (on 11-for-18 shooting), plus eight assists and six rebounds, on the night.
"I just love to see him take over games like that," Chauncey Billups said. "That is something that you're either blessed to have or you're sorry you don't have it. He's got it."
• The Pacers were without center Roy Hibbert, who was stuck serving a one-game suspension for his role in a shoving match with the Warriors earlier this week. That absence was a factor in Paul's ability to create high-percentage looks down the stretch, as Hibbert's massive frame and length tends to force the action further from the basket area.
The shoving match between Hibbert and David Lee received a nice postscript when Hibbert, who signed a four-year, max contract last summer, stepped up to pay a $35,000 fine that was assessed to Lance Stephenson for his role in joining the fray to defend Hibbert. That $35,000 check, remember, goes on top of the $124,000+ in salary that Hibbert lost due to the suspension.
Stephenson, 22, was a 2010 second-round pick and, as such, is earning just $870,000 this season, a pittance by NBA standards and less than seven percent of Hibbert's salary. Although his professional career got off to a rocky start due to off-the-court reasons, Stephenson has emerged this season as one of the NBA's better values, averaging 8.5 points, 3.8 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 1.1 steals in 28.6 minutes per game. A whole host of 2010 second-round picks have already washed out of the league and Stephenson is on a short list with Raptors wing Landry Fields and Jazz forward Jeremy Evans (the 2012 Slam Dunk Contest champion) among players in that group that have made any sort of a name for themselves.
Against the Clippers, Stephenson finished with 16 points (on seven-for-eight shooting), seven rebounds, four assists and a steal in 29 minutes. The 16 points marked his most productive scoring night in a month and he did it by cutting smartly off the ball, catching the Clippers' gambling weakside defenders napping and jutting to the hoop at just the right moments. Six of his seven baskets came from within two feet.
• It wouldn't be a Clippers game without some Blake Griffin highlights. The All-Star forward finished with 18 points, 14 rebounds and two assits in 36 minutes and had this pretty lefty dunk after absorbing big contact from Ian Mahinmi, Indiana's stand-in starter for Hibbert. Griffin finishes through contact better than just about anyone in the league.
On the other end, George, who tallied 20 points, five assists, four rebounds, two steals and a block in 42 minutes, put Griffin on the wrong side of a poster. George attacked the hoop going left off of a curl screen and with four Clippers collapsing on him as the shot clock wound down, it seemed like he would be forced to put up a rushed runner. Instead, he elevated quickly to dunk with two hands over a contesting effort from Griffin. This was a pleasant combination of burst and timing from George.