"I don't really remember Christmas."
A confident Chris Paul stood at the podium after a pedestrian 20-point, 13-assist performance in the Los Angeles Clippers 113-97 blowout victory over their Staples Center co-tenants, the Lakers.
Paul was pressed on how important his presence is on the court for the Clippers, but would not divulge any information as to what his team did differently to avenge their 111-102 Christmas Day loss to the Lakers.
"I can't speak about games I didn't play in," he said matter-of-factly.
To say that Paul is the engine that drives the Clippers' Corvette is an understatement. He's the steering wheel, the tires, the battery, and the brakes. Without him, the car goes nowhere.
Paul missed seven games in December and January with a right hamstring strain, and the Clippers record was 2-5 over that span. Since his return, the Clippers are riding high, in the midst of a six-game winning streak and are undefeated in the year 2017.
"It's a lot attributed to him [Paul]," Clippers head coach Doc Rivers said about the team's success. "We didn't play well on Christmas Day. We gave the ball away every time we had it. I think the difference is we came to play today. Today was a competition. We came in ready to go, without all that stuff they have on Christmas."
Yes, there's a fair amount of distractions for teams on the Christmas Day games; new jerseys, commercial breaks for the national television audience, Santa, but those are simply excuses. The Clippers are clearly not the same team without Paul on the floor. He's more valuable to the team than Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan, he's arguably the best defensive player on the team, and the general that leads them into battle. It's as plain as the day is long: as Paul goes, so go the Clippers.
"CP [Chris Paul] played today," said Clippers' center DeAndre Jordan when asked why the team was able to beat the Lakers so soundly just three weeks after they suffered a loss to them. "CP is a playmaker. He's one of the best defenders on our team. As the floor general, he sees a lot of things before they happen and he gets guys open looks. Whenever he's on the floor, it's good for us."
It's often said that what makes a superstar in sports is the ability to make those around them better. Nobody embodies this more than Paul as evident by Jordan's statline.
In the first meeting with the Lakers, the Clippers big man had just seven points, 10 rebounds and no blocks. On Saturday, Jordan led all scorers with 24 points, 21 rebounds and two blocks. He was 12-for-13 from the field, with most of his points coming from dunks, dished out by Paul on the lob.
"It was great today," Jordan said of his performance. "Our energy got us going and we got easy buckets."
In addition to making his teammates better, Paul controls the offense and the defense. The Clippers scored 11 more points and allowed 14 less points with him on the floor. In the first matchup with the Lakers, the Clippers committed 15 turnovers as Raymond Felton, Jamal Crawford, and Austin Rivers all took turns running the point.
With Paul running the offense, the team committed just seven total turnovers and shot more than 10 percent better from the field (53-to-43) than they did in the Christmas Day game.
Defensively, Paul locks down the team's opposing point guard like a raven clutching its prey. Lakers' point guard D'Angelo Russell scored 14 points during the yuletide game, but managed just five points while guarded by Paul on Saturday.
The Clippers are currently the NBA's only undefeated team in the New Year, and as long as Paul can stay healthy, they will continue to pile up wins as they move up the Western Conference standings.
Things will only get better as Blake Griffin is expected back from knee surgery in the next couple weeks. Needless to say, if Lob City can stay healthy, the future is as high as a Paul lob to Jordan for the dunk.