Originally posted on NESN.com  |  Last updated 11/21/12
Chris Paul dashed down the floor ahead of the defense, collected an outlet pass, took a glance over his shoulder to check the defender closing in fast and dunked nonchalantly. The act of Paul dunking might have been casual to him, but it was anything but to the Los Angeles Clippers bench. DeAndre Jordan became so animated, he had to be restrained by teammate Ronnie Turiaf, because despite Paul’s impressive dribbling and passing skills, slam-dunking has never been considered a major part of his repertoire. Paul is not the only player doing things most Clippers observers have not seen before. Two years ago, it was the emphatic emergence of Blake Griffin. Last year it was Paul’s electrifying arrival. This year it may be a bench that packs the offensive punch to carry the Clips into title contention, led by a player who heats up so fast, he even makes a microwave look like a slow-cooker. In his first season in Los Angeles, Jamal Crawford is back to doing Jamal Crawford things. The former NBA Sixth Man of the Year leads the team in scoring, and he is doing so in bunches. Crawford’s 19.7 points per game entering Wednesday were coming in barely 28 minutes and less than 13 shots per game. No other player averaging at least 19 points per game plays less than 32 minutes a night, and only Dwight Howard takes fewer shots. Crawford is the easy choice to the sixth man award so far, and that explosive scoring presence off the bench is an element the Clippers did not enjoy last season — and they had a pretty good sixth man then, too. Mo Williams was a starting-caliber guard coming off the bench for L.A. in 2011-12. He started 81 games alongside LeBron James on the Cleveland squad that reached the 2009 Eastern Conference Finals and has resumed his starting role this season in Utah. But in comparable minutes to the ones Crawford is getting now, Williams scored just 13.2 points per game and was no more than the fourth-leading scorer on the team. The Clippers had no trouble putting the ball in the basket and finished the season ranked fourth in the league in offensive efficiency. Still, there was a feeling that they could be better. Whether due to the limitations of Jordan’s evolving offensive game or mismanagement by coach Vinny Del Negro, the Clippers had a tendency to stall at least once per half. That was how they fell behind the Grizzlies by 27 points in the first place in their rousing comeback victory in Game 1 of the playoffs. As effective as the combination of Paul and Griffin — or Paul and Jordan — was, the Clippers relied on it a little too heavily. A well-coached team like the Spurs were capable of snuffing out such a predictable attack, which is exactly what the Spurs did in sweeping the Clippers out of the second round of the playoffs. So coming into this season, in a way the Clippers needed to become less disciplined. They did the opposite by bringing back Chauncey Billups and signing Grant Hill, neither of whom has suited up this season, to provide a steadying presence in a young locker room. But adding Crawford, who opted out of a $5.2 deal with the Trail Blazers, may have been this summer’s masterstroke. In 13 NBA seasons, Crawford has been the king of the broken play — namely because he is usually the one breaking them. If the Bulls, Knicks, Warriors or Hawks ever ran a play for him, it was well-hidden in a shroud of chaos. He seemed stifled under Nate McMillan last season in Portland. Either Del Negro has made no attempt to rein in Crawford, or he has and Crawford has effectively ignored him. Well before Paul’s jam, the Clippers bench got a lot of practice in incredulous-looking celebrations thanks to Crawford’s slick dribbling against the likes of Ray Allen and Nando de Colo. Those moves were more than just empty highlights in Lob City, however. If it can be said that alley-oops are monotonous, then Crawford’s free-wheeling has opened up the Clippers offense. It may not be what purists seek, but it has made L.A. that much more difficult to defend. As a result, the Clippers play faster and more aggressive than they did even last season. With Crawford and Eric Bledsoe (himself averaging double figures as a reserve) pushing the ball with the second unit, the Clippers are getting a full four more possessions per game this season. In a faster, more perimeter-centered game, those extra possessions could be the difference between the fifth seed — which the Clippers earned last year — and the top-three seed that comes with a Pacific Division title, which they are in prime position to win this year. Paul may be the best executor of the pick-and-roll around and Griffin’s offensive game may be growing, but even the most effective offensive attack needs a change of pace once in a while. Crawford has not only changed the pace. He also may have changed the expectations for the franchise long known as Los Angeles’ “other” team.” And that is something few people have seen before. Have a question for Ben Watanabe? Send it to him via Twitter at @BenjeeBallgame or send it here.
GET THE YARDBARKER APP:
Ios_download En_app_rgb_wo_45
MORE FROM YARDBARKER

SEC commissioner shoots down Bielema's SEC/Big Ten idea

South Carolina LB Skai Moore will miss season with neck injury

Report: Nick Van Exel will join Grizzlies coaching staff

Denver Broncos WR and girlfriend end up arrested

Chris Berman may end up with emeritus-type role at ESPN

LIKE WHAT YOU SEE?
GET THE DAILY NEWSLETTER:

Not one, but two position players take the mound for the Padres

Report: Will Smith’s blood alcohol level three times over limit when he was fatally shot

Report: Kings’ Darren Collison arrested for domestic violence

Report: Blue Jays acquire reliever Jason Grilli from Braves

Troy Brouwer has thought about signing with the Canucks

Jose Bautista says Rougned Odor was looking for fight before May 16 brawl

Mookie Betts hits three home runs, Bogaerts extends streak

Darryl Strawberry says Mets need to 'get into fights'

Jose Reyes to begin minor league rehab assignment

Jim Harbaugh responds to Nick Saban via Twitter

Raiders had three scuffles during OTA session

John Scott wants to form a World Cup team with snubs, including Phil Kessel

A look at who’s hot and who’s not heading into the summer tournaments

Durant, Westbrook and the right, liberated role players

Netflix announces G.L.O.W. comedy series

San Francisco Giants ask for tax breaks on AT&T Park due to dropping stadium value

Is Anderson Varejao already guaranteed a championship ring?

Why this NBA Finals rematch is different than last year

NBA News
Delivered to your inbox
You'll also receive Yardbarker's daily Top 10, featuring the best sports stories from around the web. Customize your newsletter to get articles on your favorite sports and teams. And the best part? It's free!

By clicking "Sign Me Up", you have read and agreed to the Fox Sports Digital Privacy Policy and Terms of Use. You can opt out at any time. For more information, please see our Privacy Policy.
the YARDBARKER app
Get it now!
Ios_download En_app_rgb_wo_45

Why this NBA Finals rematch is different than last year

Defense could play a huge role in who wins the Stanley Cup

Speedy pace of the Penguins-Sharks Stanley Cup Final

How expanded instant replay has hurt the NBA

Best regular-season NBA teams not to win a championship

Every time an NBA team came back from a 3-1 deficit (and what it means for the Warriors)

How disallowed goals can change the course of NHL games

The five most disappointing MLB teams this season

QUIZ: Identify these NHL Hall of Famers by their nicknames

QUIZ: Name every winner of the Belmont Stakes since 1867

Today's Best Stuff
For Publishers
Company Info
Help
Follow Yardbarker