It was nearing midnight in Los Angeles and Chris Paul was still fielding questions in a narrow conference room across from the Clippers locker room at Staples Center.
Paul’s two-year-old son, Chris Jr., was there too, on his father’s lap just like he was following the Clippers’ narrow Game 3 victory two days before, when he made the “Blake Face” famous. Little Chris looked tired, an oversized Clippers cap sliding over his eyes.
Big Chris must have felt just as exhausted. About 90 minutes earlier, he was finishing off the Grizzlies in overtime of Game 4 to give the Clippers a commanding 3-1 lead, inching closer to the second postseason series victory of his seven-year career.
“We still haven’t done anything yet,” Paul said. “We’re having fun, and that’s all good and well, but we did what we were supposed to do and that’s win our home games. The series is not over yet.”
The comment was a perfect example of Paul’s approach to the postseason, and winning in general. He’s often referred to as hyper-competitive, and with that comes an attentiveness to detail that is unsurpassed.
“Chris is always intense,” Clippers head coach Vinny Del Negro said. “That’s what makes him special. Everyone knows it’s obviously the playoffs, and Chris is so good at not only making plays for himself but making the right play which is more important at times.
“He understands the moment and he’s picking his spots when he needs to be aggressive offensively and when he needs to run the team a little bit more and get the ball to certain guys who maybe have it going a little bit more, whether it’s Blake [Griffin] in the post or Mo [Williams] on the flare or Randy [Foye] or whomever. That’s what makes him a star.”
Game 4 was unmistakably a star-like performance, one both unsurprising and dazzling. Paul scored 27 points, eight in overtime, with seven assists and a team-high nine rebounds.
“I just knew our bigs were going to be down there fighting,” Paul said about his season-high tying tally on the boards. “I know Zach [Randolph] is going to clear people out and Marc Gasol is such a great rebounder and is physical. Our guards have to get back into the play and help out our big men with those two guys on the glass.”
He dished to DeAndre Jordan and Griffin for dunks, including slicing past a Jordan screen, squeezing between two defenders and finding Griffin for a two-handed dunk in the third quarter. He leapt over the first row of chairs to save a ball down the stretch, tumbling onto a walkway. And with 27 seconds to go, gave the Clippers a two-point lead by going with a left-right crossover on Tony Allen and making a right-handed layup.
Chris Paul Shooting from Mid-Range
2011-12 Regular Season: 137-289 (47%)
2011-12 Postseason: 16-31 (52%)
In the Clutch
2011-12 Regular Season: 14-32 (44%)
2011-12 Postseason: 5-7 (71%)
Yet it was a rare mistake that he talked most about in that late-night press conference. With the game tied and 20 seconds remaining in regulation, he let the clock bleed down to less than 5 seconds, drove into the lane on Allen, stumbled slightly as he made a reverse pivot, and failed to get a shot off before the buzzer.
“It’s fun and it’s exciting, but the worst mistake I probably made was not getting a shot at the end of regulation,” Paul said. “If I was at home watching on TV, I’d be talking so bad about me.”
In overtime, he made amends almost instantly, and along with two free throws from Williams, finished off the Grizzlies. Three times he made shots from the right side of the lane, one leaning bank shot around Gasol and two others from the free-throw line extended, darting around screens.
Asked the difference in the game, Memphis head coach Lionel Hollins resoundingly answered, “Chris Paul. The guy made three straight jumpers, got to the basket, got fouled, I mean, come on. Chris Paul won the game for them down the stretch.”
Allen, who was one of four Grizzlies defenders matched up with Paul on Monday, agreed saying, “Looking at the numbers you would say [it was too much Chris Paul]… I would say he pretty much dictated the whole game.”
As the Clippers head back to Memphis for Game 5, Paul likely wouldn’t mind dictating one more late night to close-out the series.
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