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Expecting Clippers to succeed without Chris Paul is pointless

Loss to the Celtics at Boston again shows that L.A. can't really compete without the playmaker, who is out because of a bruised kneecap.

February 03, 2013|By Ben Bolch
  • Chris Paul has missed 10 games this season because of a bruised kneecap, in his absence the Clippers are 5-5.
Chris Paul has missed 10 games this season because of a bruised kneecap,… (Mark J. Terrill / Associated…)

BOSTON — The tweet was displayed in giant letters on a wraparound digital scoreboard inside TD Garden before the fourth quarter.

No Rondo? No problem.

It was rubbing it in, in 1,000-point font.

While the Boston Celtics were on their way to improving to 4-0 since point guard Rajon Rondo suffered a season-ending knee injury, the Clippers continued to be a perfect mess without Chris Paul on Sunday during a 106-104 loss.

They are 2-5 in their second stint with their best player sidelined because of a bruised right kneecap, which shouldn't surprise anyone given their kiddie-pool depth at point guard.

Their starter of the moment, Eric Bledsoe, is a promising but erratic talent who should be learning how to be a capable reserve.

His backup, Jamal Crawford, was born a scorer, not a ballhandler.

Beyond those two, the Clippers have … Grant Hill? Cliff Paul, the fictional alter ego of his more celebrated brother seen in State Farm ads?

"You can't make excuses," said forward Matt Barnes, who could have used a few on a day he missed all six shots. "I mean, they don't have Rondo. So there's no time for excuses."

Indeed, the Celtics' ball movement may have actually improved since Rondo went down. It wasn't so much backup point guards Avery Bradley and Courtney Lee wowing Sunday as it was everyone wearing green and white, with all 10 players who entered the game scoring. Seven Celtics tallied at least two assists.

Boston stars Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett still got the ball in their preferred spots and the Celtics' bench outscored its counterparts by a staggering 52-29 margin.

The Clippers' bench needs to be benched the way it has played lately. One of the best reserve units in the NBA this season, the second unit has been outscored by its counterparts in three consecutive games.

"It's going to be like that with Chris out. It kind of changes our dynamic," forward Blake Griffin said. "Jamal comes in a little bit earlier and is playing a little bit of a different role because he's not in with Eric at the same time."

Crawford was rushed into the game Sunday ahead of even his revised schedule. Bledsoe picked up his second foul with 3 minutes 16 seconds left in the first quarter and the score tied, prompting Crawford to scurry to the scorer's table.

By the time Bledsoe reentered the game and play resumed midway through the second quarter, the Clippers were trailing by 13 points.

They would never draw even again.

To be fair, this loss could hardly be pinned exclusively on two guards who combined for nine of the team's 21 turnovers, including one in the third quarter when Bledsoe dribbled out of bounds and Crawford's defeat-sealing charge with 26 seconds to play when he lowered a shoulder into Bradley.

Bledsoe scored 17 of his 23 points in the second half while playing every second. Crawford had 20 of his 23 points and four of his six assists after halftime.

Meanwhile, Barnes, Hill and fellow reserve Ronny Turiaf were scoreless and starters DeAndre Jordan and Willie Green were sporadic entities, combining for 14 points, five rebounds and one assist.

"We've just got to play off one another like we did when he first got hurt," Bledsoe said, alluding to the Clippers' 3-0 record after Paul first injured his knee last month. "It's going to come along. We just have to stick with it and play our game."

Paul may not be able to help soon beyond his usual contribution in the fashion department. He wore another GQ-quality ensemble Sunday, pairing a snazzy-looking beige sports coat with designer jeans.

But he is not expected to play Monday against Washington and there remains no definitive timetable for his return.

That leaves a team that is 5-5 in his absence with plenty of tweaking to do.

Unless, of course, the Clippers are willing to accept being a .500 team.

"That's what we've played to so far," Coach Vinny Del Negro said, "but it depends on scheduling and there's a lot that goes into it. But I have a lot of confidence in our guys. We just have to learn with a new team right now how to be more efficient for longer stretches and to be able to close games out in the fourth quarter."

The simplest fix of all continues to wear fancy duds on his team's bench. The moment Paul turns them in for a standard-issue jersey, the Clippers will no longer resemble an ordinary outfit.

ben.bolch@latimes.com

Twitter: @latbbolch

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