Eric Bledsoe might be the Clippers’ X factor
Many interested parties pondered exactly how injured Chris Paul was Friday, eyeballing the All-Star guard’s every movement to see if a sprained hip was enough to slow down a player Memphis defenders had yet to control.
When it turned out that Paul — yes, Chris Paul — was human and that he wouldn’t be his usual dominant, unstoppable, clutch self, it meant another Clipper suddenly had some impossibly large sneakers to fill.
Eric Bledsoe wasn’t sure before the game if he would get that chance against Memphis in Game 6 at Staples Center.
But Bledsoe learned in real time, watching Paul move in a much slower fashion because of the injury, that the chance was his.
And despite the fact that the Grizzlies won, 90-88, Bledsoe responded with his most inspired performance of the postseason against a team whose entire postseason was at stake.
He finished with 14 points, six assists and four rebounds in 24 minutes off the bench, many of them spent keeping the score close when Memphis threatened to pull away.
The Grizzlies’ victory tied the series at 3-3 and set up a Game 7 on Sunday in Memphis, but Bledsoe got good reviews.
Said Paul: “EB was outstanding.”
Said Coach Vinny Del Negro: “Eric was great.”
Said DeAndre Jordan: “Even though Chris was a little banged up, Eric definitely stepped up.”
The question is now how much Bledsoe will have to step up in Game 7. That depends on how healthy Paul’s hip will be by then, but regardless, Bledsoe’s play will be an X factor in that game.
“The momentum, everything he brought to the team, we’re going to need that in Memphis,” Paul said.
Said Jordan: “If Chris isn’t ready to go, we totally believe in Eric.”
Bledsoe is ready for whatever, as usual.
“I’m just going to play,” he said. “Whatever minutes I get, whatever I don’t, I’m just going to play my best.”
Bledsoe looked exhausted near the end of the game, using his sweat-soaked jersey to wipe the sweat from his brow, with his chest heaving up and down.
But he had earned every drop of perspiration after blazing down the court, pushing the tempo, and pressuring the ball on defense.
“His all-around effort was big,” guard Randy Foye said.
The Clippers’ pace is far different when Paul is at the point guard versus Bledsoe at that position.
“Chris, he picks his spots and he’s more of a scorer,” Foye said. “Eric, he’s more explosive, he’s fast, he’s strong, he’s really fast up and down the floor.”
But in parts, Bledsoe handled point guard duties while Paul played the shooting guard position, which took some pressure off Paul and allowed Bledsoe to guard Memphis’ Mike Conley.
“I think it was a good combo,” Bledsoe said.
That combination might be more prevalent in Game 7, just as Paul’s hip might be feeling better.
Bledsoe can’t think about that. He can only stay ready.
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