The Los Angeles Clippers didn’t just skate by Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals against the Houston Rockets without point guard Chris Paul. They eviscerated Houston with a 117-101 blowout road victory while the All-Star and captain cheered from the bench with a strained left hamstring.
But the Clippers sorely missed Paul’s leadership and playmaking down the stretch in Game 2, failing to maintain a nine-point halftime lead and succumbing to a 115-109 loss as the seven-game series shifts to Los Angeles.
Paul’s status for Game 3 remains unclear, as healing times for hamstring injuries vary. The Clippers are not practicing Thursday, but the 30-year-old was reportedly set to workout on the court.
Initially, there was some hope that Paul would come back in Game 2. Clippers head coach Doc Rivers told reporters Paul had a 50-50 chance to return, but he was scratched at the last minute and donned a suit on the bench. Afterwards, Rivers said Paul could play in Friday’s Game 3 at Staples Center, but made no promises.
A major question will be whether Paul is healthy enough to play like he did in the first round. The 10-year veteran provided a sensational 22.7 points, 7.9 assists and two steals over an arduous seven-game series that eliminated the defending champion San Antonio Spurs. Scoring 30 or more points in two of the games, Paul’s efforts were crucial to escaping past the Spurs and he punctuated his importance to the team by banking in the game-winner in Game 7.
With Paul sidelined, backup guard Austin Rivers has averaged 26.5 minutes. The 22-year-old has shot 42.9 percent from the field and has just five total assists in the series. Veteran Lester Hudson, who did not play in the first round, has played 15 total minutes against the Rockets.
In the four regular-season games against the Rockets, Paul averaged 16.8 points per game and 9.5 assists, but shot just 36.7 percent.