It’s too early in the grinding schedule to call it a defining moment. And Chris Paul makes that sort of big play so often it’s almost taken for granted.
Yet Paul’s careening game-clinching shot that upended the Atlantic Division-leading 76ers on Friday was something unusually spectacular.
“That was incredible,” 76ers head coach Doug Collins said. “Andre Iguodala played him, couldn’t play him any better. He hits a fade away jump shot. There must have been three or four times they fell on the floor with the ball and scrummed it out, and got it out, and it was a wonderful play.”
Williams canned both of them and a frustrated Vinny Del Negro called the Clippers final timeout. Needless to say, what came next was hardly by design.
Paul dribbled into the lane, being hounded by Iguodala, one of the game’s premier perimeter defenders, and after picking up his dribbled dropped a bounce pass at the feet of Blake Griffin, who was posting Elton Brand on the right block. The ball bounced between Griffin’s legs, he stretched to pick it up and as he turned, began falling to the floor.
“That’s one of the weirdest plays I’ve ever been a part of in my basketball career,” Brand said. “Blake Griffin’s on the ground with the ball on his knees. I actually thought he was going to shoot it from the ground. We have to get to those loose balls. Then when Chris got the ball back again, Andre played great defense on him the first time, but Chris was just able to hit that amazing shot at the end.”
From his backside Griffin had the presence of mind to rifle a desperation pass out top to Kenyon Martin. The new Clipper big man turned to his right and handed it back to Paul with about nine seconds on the clock.
“He was supposed to throw it to me and I was supposed to fall on the ground and throw it back to him,” Griffin joked.
“That almost turned out to be ugly,” Paul added. “I threw the ball between Blake Griffin’s legs. I thought it would be a turnover, so thank you Blake Griffin for diving for the ball. Without him, we don’t win the game.”
As if in tune with each tick, Paul dribbled Iguodala from the right wing into the lane, stopped just past the free throw line, stumbled slightly as he turned away from the hoop, stepped back to 16-feet and drilled a perfect fadeaway over his long-armed defender. Three and two tenths of a second remained. Clippers 78, 76ers 77.
"I looked up at the clock and saw that I had a second chance at life," Paul told the L.A. Times. "I had missed like two or three of those in the fourth quarter with the shot clock running that hit the back of the rim. Got to keep shooting. Luckily it finally went in."
Of course, the Clippers still had to make one final defensive stand. But they had done that for almost six consecutive minutes, holding Philadelphia without a field goal down the stretch. After Williams caught a pass from Iguodala about 30 feet from the basket, Paul forced Williams to dribble toward the left sideline where Martin met him for a perfectly executed trap. Williams flailed up a shot that came a split second after the buzzer sounded. After the game, Williams was asked as much about Paul’s dagger step-back than his own attempt.
“I thought Andre played good enough defense to get a stop, and Chris shoots a 360 jump shot in the lane, and he wins the game,” Williams said. “So we’ll take that.”
More: Clippers-76ers Recap