That’s all it took for Chris Paul’s return to the Clippers lineup to feel as though he had never been gone.
He may not have looked 100% and his jumper may have been a little wobbly, but that was to be expected as the All-World point guard played for the first time since straining his left hamstring 11 days ago.
“It felt great to get back on the court,” said Paul, who had 12 assists and zero turnovers in 26 minutes.
He practiced at full-speed for the first time Tuesday and ran through another workout during the morning shoot-around to test himself.
He exited the game for the first time with 6:32 left on the first-quarter clock with five assists and one shot attempt, a missed 3-pointer that he heaved towards the rim as the shot clock expired.
In the second quarter, he continued his probing, ball-control style.
On one offensive set, he hunched over, calmly sustaining a waist-high dribble. A few feet away Blake Griffin bounced up and down like a linebacker preparing to tackle a fast-approaching running back. As Griffin waited, somewhat impatiently, to set a screen to Paul’s left, Paul, ever the quarterback, made eye contact and suddenly nodded. Griffin popped into position, setting the screen for Paul, who dished to Butler for a 10-footer and assist number eight of the first half.
In the previous meeting against the Lakers, Paul scored 33 points with six assists. On Wednesday, Paul the shot-maker, became Paul the playmaker. But as he came back in for the final 8:05, Paul was unable to re-create the magic that helped the Clippers close out the Lakers two weeks earlier.
Although he briefly quieted the partisan crowd with a floater in the lane after Kobe Bryant’s 3-pointer from the right wing gave the Lakers their first lead since 2-0, it was the last field goal Paul would make. He finished with four points on 2-of-8 shooting.
“I missed shots that I can make,” Paul said. “I got the looks I just didn’t make them.”
Clippers head coach Vinny Del Negro kept Paul on a strict minutes limit on the night, suggesting that the team would remain cautious with Paul’s injury.
“I wish I could play some more,” Paul said. “I wish we had went into overtime or something like that.”
More: Postgame Recap: Clippers 91, Lakers 96