On a marathon opening day schedule, the nation’s attention shifted to the late game, where the NBA’s most sought after player in the offseason, Chris Paul, made his Los Angeles Clippers debut against the Golden State Warriors. The Clippers prized acquisition led his young team down the stretch as Los Angeles defeated Golden State, 105-86, on Sunday night.
Christmas came early for the Clippers this year, when the NBA nixed a trade that would have sent Paul to play alongside Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers. But like the Grinch who stole Christmas, on December 14, the Clippers outbid their Staple Center rivals by dealing rising star Eric Gordon, and a crop of young players, to the league-owned New Orleans Hornets in exchanged for the coveted four-time All-Star. The blockbuster trade was just one move Los Angeles made to improve their roster that already boasted last seasons Rookie of the Year in Blake Griffin and center DeAndre Jordon. The Clippers acquired All-Star forward Caron Butler from the NBA champion Dallas Mavericks and later added veteran guard Chauncey Billups –who was placed on the waivers by the New York Knicks through the league’s new amnesty clause– as the last piece to their new-look franchise.
With just two preseason games to become acclimated with each other’s game, CP3 and company traveled to the revamped Oracle Arena on Christmas Day, and often sloppy at times, spoiled the Golden State head-coaching debut of Mark Jackson. Paul, who had a quiet first half going 1-for-6 from the field for only seven points in 19 minutes, erupted in the waning minutes of the fourth quarter, to finish 7-of-12 on his way to 20 points and nine assists in the Clippers season opener. It was hardly a spectacular start for the Clip show, who hopes to emerge from behind the Lakers shadow to shine in LA, but head coach Vinny Del Negro will take a methodical win any day.
Billups, aka Mr. Big Shot (21 points, 4 assist), hit a clutch 3-pointer for LA before Paul took over with under 4 minutes to play. The 26-year-old Paul scored on three consecutive offensive possessions to help halt a Warriors charge to put the game away and finish with 8 points on 4-for-4 shooting in the final period. Griffin scored 22 points and grabbed 7 rebounds, while DeAndre Jordan (6 points, 5 rebounds) and Butler (11 points, 10 rebounds) rounded out the new-look Clippers debut.
It was a solemn day for Warriors’ Monta Ellis. Golden State paid tribute to the star shooting guard’s grandmother, Mary Cole, who passed away Christmas morning at age 89. Ellis finished with 15 points and eight assists and led the Warriors comeback, along with All-Star forward David Lee (21 points, 12 rebounds). Brandon Rush’s 3-pointer cut the Warriors deficit to a point at 78-77. Warriors’ center Andris Biedrins (10 points, 8 rebounds, three blocks) scored a running hook with six minutes remaining to cut the Clippers’ lead to a point again at 82-81, before Mo Williams helped to stop the Warriors charge before CP3 sealed the Clippers victory.
Golden State will face the Chicago Bulls on Monday, who came off a thrilling victory against the Lakers Sunday night as the reigning league MVP Derrick Rose hit the game-winner. Jackson will need more production from his young squad to contend against the league’s top teams.
The Clippers will head to San Antonio on Wednesday to face Tim Duncan and the Spurs. Once, CP3 and Co. gel it will be no time before “Lob City” comes to a town near you.