Can Clippers Succeed Without Billups?
It was the injury that has seriously altered the Clippers’ season.
Veteran floor-general Chauncey Billups collapsed to the court with a season-ending torn left Achilles-tendon while playing an away game against the Orlando Magic on Feb. 6.
The injury occurred midway through the fourth quarter. Billups fell to the court as he tried to change directions while chasing the ball after missing a three-point shot attempt. There was no contact with another player.
“I was backpedaling and tried to retreat and go back forward,” Billups said. “I couldn’t get up. I got up one time and I fell back down. At that point, I was just trying to get out of the game.”
At the time of the injury, he had 18 points, nine of those coming off of three three-pointers made in the fourth quarter.
His backcourt partner, Chris Paul, was devastated, fighting back tears. “He’s the best guard I have ever started with in the backcourt since I have been in the NBA,” Paul said. “I trust him with everything, on and off the court.”
It was unique and highly productive having two star point-guards in the starting lineup.
To honor Billups, Paul created a shrine in the locker next to his, displaying Billups uniform to give the team hope for the remainder of the season.
Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro also expressed concern, especially since Caron Butler’s production has suffered because defenses are playing him differently since Billups was lost for the season.
“When Chauncey was here, we had more spacing and he was such a threat,” Del Negro said. “Caron probably is getting a little more attention than he was before. We never are going to replace a guy like Chauncey.”
Known as “Mr. Big Shot” for making late-game shots, Billups won the NBA Finals MVP in 2004, helping the Detroit Pistons beat the Lakers in the Finals.
Because of his sharp-shooting skills from anywhere on the floor, Billups was always in the lineup during crunch-time at the end of close games when the Clippers needed an experienced free-throw shooter out there.
The Clippers won-loss record has taken a big hit since Billups went on the shelf. Through the game against Orlando, which the Clippers won, their record was 15-7. Without Billups in the lineup, their record is 8-10 at the time this story went to press.
They still have a winning record and are positioned fifth overall in the Western Conference standings, but are slumping, having lost eight out of their last 12 games, most recently at home against the Golden State Warriors and Boston Celtics, both games the Clippers should have won.
Blake Griffin talked about the need to keep improving. “We don’t want to peak in the middle of the season,” he said. “We need to keep getting better. After the (All-Star) break is when things get serious.”
The Clippers started out the season advantageously with three proven point-guards in Billups, Paul and Mo Williams. All three, a starter on any team in the NBA. Williams is still coming off the bench to lead the second unit, while Randy Foye has filled in the starting shooting-guard spot vacated by Billups.
The re-vamped Clippers had great promise and momentum up until Billups sustained his injury. He played an important role alongside Paul and finally had the team in serious contention in the Western Conference after a long drought.
Whether or not the other players can step up to help Paul and power-house Griffin, is still left to be seen. With 26 games left in the regular season, over half of them at home, and a close race developing for the top eight spots in the Western Conference, only time will tell.