The debate about who would step up the most in Blake Griffin’s absence may have been settled by Doris Marten, of all people.
Marten is a Clippers massage therapist. She likes to place thin strips of masking tape denoting her picks for the game’s most valuable player and the player who delivered the “hassle” as the defensive specialist above the lockers of the award winners after every Clippers victory.
This is how Chris Paul and DeAndre Jordan entered the locker room Sunday afternoon at the United Center to find tape with red lettering stuck above their shoes and other belongings.
Paul was Marten’s pick for the hassle of the game, her handwritten message complete with a heart after the Clippers’ 96-86 victory over the Chicago Bulls, and Jordan was the MVP, a distinction accompanied by a smiley face.
Paul and Jordan have been finding themselves in delightfully sticky situations a lot lately.
They have helped the Clippers go 6-3 without Griffin, the All-Star forward who could return in about a week from the staph infection in his right elbow that required surgical removal last month.
Jordan snagged 26 rebounds to go with nine points against the Bulls and Paul collected 28 points and 12 assists along with shoulder-bumps of teammates Dahntay Jones and Spencer Hawes after his drama-ending jumper gave the Clippers a 10-point lead with 2 minutes 5 seconds to play.
“It’s all about being a team,” Paul said. “Everybody plays a role and that’s what we’re trying to do.”
It was the eighth consecutive game with at least 15 rebounds for Jordan, tying the franchise record shared by Michael Cage and Bob McAdoo.
Jordan also played lockdown defense on Pau Gasol, the power forward who finished with one more basket (two) than tweets after a dispatch was sent, presumably inadvertently, from his Twitter account in the first quarter thanking fans for their interest in a charity T-shirt featuring himself and his brother Marc.
“He’s clearly the defensive player of the year,” Clippers Coach Doc Rivers said of Jordan. “If anybody else gets that award, then we need to have an investigation.”
An under-the-weather Gasol played as if his mind was elsewhere, airballing a 22-foot jumper in the early going. It was an ongoing issue for the injury-depleted Bulls, whose players not named Nikola Mirotic combined to make 16 of 64 shots (25%).
Mirotic made 11 of 23 on the way to a career-high 29 points. The rookie scored 16 of Chicago’s 17 fourth-quarter points, and it still wasn’t enough.
The Bulls were within five points with 4:47 left when Clippers forward Matt Barnes, shrugging off a strained right hamstring, blocked Mirotic’s three-point attempt from the corner, a stop that Rivers called the biggest play of the game.
“It’s hustle, man,” said Barnes, who finished with a game-high four blocks. “I’m a football player at heart, so I’ve always grown up knowing you have to play through stuff.”
The Bulls started the game without Derrick Rose (knee) and Taj Gibson (ankle) and ended it without Jimmy Butler after the shooting guard, the team’s leading scorer, sprained his left elbow while running into a Jordan pick early in the third quarter.
The Clippers pulled away with a 14-4 push midway through the fourth quarter, with Jamal Crawford scoring 10 of his 16 points in the quarter. The Clippers also persevered through another round of hack-a-Jordan when he made three of six free throws after being intentionally fouled.
Chicago couldn’t even get that part of its game right. The Bulls failed to hack Jordan after J.J. Redick rebounded a Bulls miss five seconds before the Clippers would be awarded two free throws and the ball for any intentional fouls.
Statistics can be misleading, but Paul’s and Jordan’s numbers tell the story of the Clippers’ success during the three weeks Griffin has been sidelined. Jordan has averaged 19.3 rebounds and 16.2 points per game, Paul 20.7 points and 12.4 assists.
“Chris is leading us, he’s picking his spots when to be aggressive, when to get guys shots,” Crawford said, “and DeAndre is a constant on defense and on offense. He’s just finding his way into double figures every single night.”
Who has been the Clippers’ most valuable player recently?
As their massage therapist knows, it’s a question with a two-part answer.