Don't Blame Chris Paul for the Clippers' First-Round Deficit
We all know the drill. The Los Angeles Clippers perform with the best of them in the regular season, make the postseason and flounder when the pressure's on in the first and second round.
You might say that's happening again this year. Five games into their first-round matchup with the Utah Jazz, the Clippers find themselves in a 3-2 hole heading to Salt Lake City for Game 6 on Friday.
Since getting out to a 2-1 series lead, the Clippers have lost Blake Griffin to a toe injury for the remainder of the playoffs and have dropped two straight contests -- one on the road and one at Staples. They've lost by a combined 11 points in those two games, and it's only been that close because of their star point guard.
In Games 4 and 5, Paul has gone for a total of 55 points, 21 assists and 13 rebounds in just under 76 minutes of floor time. However, it hasn't taken a loss or a Griffin-less lineup for CP3 to produce in a historically great way.
Through five games of a hard-fought series, Paul's individual performance has been legendary.
Regardless of Griffin's presence, Paul has scored 27.0 points while dishing out 10.4 assists and grabbing 5.6 rebounds in 36.4 minutes. Those averages place him in the company of only four other players to have ever averaged at least 25 points, 10 assists and 5 rebounds in a single postseason.
Counting this season, Russell Westbrook has accomplished this feat twice. But, as you can see, Paul has played the smallest number of minutes of the six instances in which a player has averaged these numbers.
Accordingly, Paul's box plus-minus (BPM) -- a box score estimate of the points per 100 possessions a player contributed above a league-average player, translated to an average team -- of 16.7 is superior to all other individual postseasons listed. In fact, Westbrook's 2016-17 campaign is the cloest, when he posted a BPM of 13.1 in five games.
If we focus on BPM alone, Paul's is only one of two scores higher than 15. The only other player to have done so while averaging at least 24 minutes per game is LeBron James. Back in 2009 -- during his first stint with the Cleveland Cavaliers -- when he was 24 years old, the King earned a BPM of 18.2 in 14 postseason games.
Of the four players above, Paul separates himself through his efficiency, both shooting and otherwise.
On 19.2 field goal attempts per game, Paul is shooting 53.1% from the field and 44.0% from three, with 2.2 makes from distance. That makes for an effective field goal percentage of 58.9%, which eliminates all others on the list. Per Basketball Reference, Paul is the only player with his point, assist and rebound production to do so with an effective field goal percentage of 55.0% or better.
Further, if we account Paul's elite free-throw shooting (91.7%), that percentage climbs all the way up to a 63.3% true shooting rate. That ranks 11th overall in the playoffs (for players to average 24 minutes or more) and second to the uber-efficient Kawhi Leonard among players to average 25 or more points per game.
What's more, Leonard is the only player that stands between Paul and the top player efficiency rating (PER) in the playoffs. Paul's PER of 34.3 falls just short of Leonard's mark of 37.5, while it is 3.9 higher than the third-rated player, Mike Conley (30.4).
In light of Paul's inflated usage rate (31.8%) sans Griffin, this level of efficiency is that much better.
A combination of production and efficiency to this magnitude can only mean value. And value is exactly what Paul has brought.
Of the 25-10-5 list above, he joins Magic Johnson and Russell Westbrook as the only two players with at least 1.0 win shares in their postseason performance. But, broken down as to eliminate volume, Paul is the lone player with at least .250 win shares per 48 minutes. His .345 is far and above Magic Johnson's .222 win shares per 48 back in the 1990 playoffs.
Even if we look at players who have averaged 25 points per game, Paul's win-share rate is worse than only four postseason performances (of at least three games). The distinguished list is made up of Leonard's current playoff season, James' '09 campaign, Hakeem Olajuwon's run in 1988 and Bob Cousy's 1956 postseason.
No matter which way you split it, the Point God's five games is -- to this point -- one of the best we've ever seen. So don't let the narrative of yesteryear get in the way.
Appreciate what Paul's doing, because we might not ever see it again.