CHRIS PAUL ADDS ANOTHER MARK TO HIS MVP RESUME
LOS ANGELES – Chris Paul was masterful and dominant.
He seized control of the Clippers’ 107-102 victory over the Lakers in a matter of seconds, never releasing his grip, never relenting. Paul, who Friday night became the first player in the NBA this season to tally 30 points, 13 assists and six rebounds in a single game, commandeered the victory and perhaps a Seminole moment in his 2013 MVP campaign.
The Clippers, looking to halt a two-game losing streak at the expense of their hallway “neighbors,” were without Jamal Crawford, who missed the game with a sore left foot. Paul and fellow star Blake Griffin acknowledged that it was important to pick up the slack in the absence of the team’s second leading scorer.
“Every time I looked over at the bench, Coach [Vinny Del Negro] was yelling at me to shoot the ball,” said Paul, who was recently awarded the Western Conference Player of the Month for December. “It felt good to be a little bit aggressive [Friday], and hopefully I can continue to play like that.”
Paul did not shy away from shooting the basketball. He made 11 of his 25 field goals, the most shots he’s attempted since April 2009. He set up Griffin for a layup over Pau Gasol on the first play of the night, threw a lob to DeAndre Jordan two possessions later and made his first jumper, a play along the baseline to make it, 10-6. Paul made one of his two steals on the ensuing inbounds pass, swiping the ball from Steve Nash and lofting a pass to Griffin for another alley-oop.
“[Paul] prefers, I think, to break somebody down and really get a teammate going,” Griffin said. “Whether it’s his scoring or passing, he’s always involved. And it’s always a part of the team game.”
Del Negro added: “He’s as competitive as there is. Missing Jamal out there tonight, obviously not having Chauncey [Billups] or Grant [Hill], I thought Chris and Blake [Griffin] made big plays.”
His biggest plays came late. After Kobe Bryant, who spent most of the night guarding Paul, made a contested 2-pointer in front of the Clippers’ bench, Paul answered with a 3-pointer from the left wing on the subsequent possession. When the Lakers forced their way back into the game late in the fourth quarter, something Paul said was the result of the Clippers playing “not to lose,” Paul rallied his teammates.
“They came back and [Paul] really put the team on his shoulders and put [the Lakers] away,” said Willie Green, who played with Paul for one season in New Orleans in addition to starting 31 games in the backcourt with the Clippers.
Paul scored the final eight points for the Clippers, making six free throws and nailing a step-back jumper over Bryant with 19.9 seconds left to effectively put the game on ice.
“You can try to bring two defenders, but we had one of the best defenders in the NBA on him and he makes unbelievable shots,” Lakers head coach Mike D’Antoni said of Paul’s final play. “After he made it you have to say, ‘Oh man.’”
The stretch run, and the jumper over Bryant, was reminiscent of Paul’s late-game theatrics in his first season with the Clippers when he made game-winning or game-altering shots against the Trail Blazers, Thunder, Lakers and 76ers among others. As the team’s depth and offensive potency has improved during Paul’s second season in L.A., he has spent far more fourth quarters watching from the bench than influencing the final minutes.
But according to Green, Paul’s imprint on the Clippers’ historic start to the season has not gone unnoticed. “Time and situation, stepping up to the free throw line, making those shots, [Paul’s] just a leader out on the floor,” Green said. “You want to put the ball in his hands and let him make a play because you know Chris is going to make the right play.”
After the Lakers game 14-year veteran Lamar Odom talked about Paul’s leadership. “He’s up there with some of the best players I’ve played with,” Odom said. “His ability to lead, make the right play, I’m fortunate to play with somebody like that, with guys that want to be great.”