The playoffs are the place where the knocks on Eric Bledsoe go to die.
Too erratic? He made all seven shots Saturday night in the Clippers’ playoff opener.
Not ready to become an NBA starter? He was certainly prepared to finish, becoming the only Clipper to play the entire fourth quarter.
Nothing but pure athleticism? He showed plenty of grit by grabbing six rebounds, as many as Memphis big men Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph had … combined.
Bledsoe was such a blur during the Clippers’ 112-91 victory over the Grizzlies in Game 1 of their Western Conference first-round series that teammate Chris Paul rendered a head-spinning analysis of his backup’s contract status a day later.
“I’m enjoying playing with him right now,” Paul said Sunday afternoon, “ ‘cause there’s no way he’s going to be here next year because we probably won’t have enough money to pay him.”
Actually, the Clippers already picked up Bledsoe’s team option for the 2013-14 season for $2.6 million.
But the sentiment stands: Bledsoe is headed for a big payday as well as the NBA’s big-time.
He was the Clippers’ most efficient player Saturday, finishing with 15 points, six rebounds, four assists and only one turnover in 18 minutes.
“I’ve pretty much kind of been doing that all season,” Bledsoe said, “but I haven’t been consistent with it.”
Not like this. His seven shots were the most the third-year player has made in a game without a miss, topping his previous best of six-for-six shooting against the New York Knicks on Feb. 10 of this year.
Bledsoe grew so much during the game, you almost wanted to pull out a tape measure to see if he was still 6 feet 1.
He has been appreciably better in the playoffs than in the regular season in each of the last two seasons, his play during last year’s run to the conference semifinals prompting the Clippers to eagerly exercise the option on his contract.
“Bled is one of the best guards in our league,” Paul said, “and I’ve said it all season long, he should be a starting point guard in this league next year.”
That won’t happen unless the Clippers trade Bledsoe or Paul declines to sign a five-year contract extension this summer. Clippers fans should consider either scenario a doomsday considering the duo’s combined effectiveness.
“Right now I’m not focused on whether I’m a starter, a backup or whatnot,” Bledsoe said. “I’m coming in and helping out the team the best way I can.”
That meant playing every second of the fourth quarter Saturday, making all six shots for 13 points in the quarter while adding all six of his rebounds and all four of his assists without a turnover. He teamed with Paul and Chauncey Billups to form a three-guard lineup for more than three minutes late in the game.
While Bledsoe, Paul and Billups were on the floor together, the Clippers increased their lead from 11 points to 19.
Bledsoe did a little bit of everything, making a couple of driving layups, a finger-roll layup, a 19-foot jumper and, most impressively, an acrobatic tip-in of a missed Blake Griffin jumper.
“I’ve seen him play better,” Clippers forward Caron Butler said. “He had a perfect night, so to speak, but he’s a guy that physically gets defenders on their heels and gets into the paint and creating opportunities for his teammates and himself, he’s one of the best in the game at it.”
The most amazing thing about Bledsoe may be that he retains considerable upside given he was a shooting guard at Kentucky and has played point guard for only two full seasons, a knee injury limiting him to 40 games last season.
“It’s pretty much not a big difference,” Bledsoe said of the position switch, “because at the end of the day, you have to know how to play the game. I pretty much know how to play the game and kind of go off my instincts.”
If it’s the playoffs, he knows just what to do.