CHRIS PAUL IS CLIPPERS' PLAY-MAKING GENERAL
LOS ANGELES – In a shade over 34 minutes Chris Paul was masterful, daring, and dutifully in charge.
It was nothing new. Staples Center’s patrons, whether with the house lights dimmed or in full illumination, are growing accustomed to it. And Paul’s superstar running mate, Blake Griffin, has seen the point guard’s ability to turn a game on its heels enough times already to somewhat know what to expect. “Nothing he does surprises me anymore,” Griffin said before calling Paul “unbelievable.”
Friday’s commanding, 105-95, victory over the Lakers was more of a team effort than not, but it was without question Paul who led the charge.
He secured 10 of his game-high 15 assists by the time there were 22 minutes still remaining in the game, out-leaped Dwight Howard for a couple of his six rebounds, and in typical Chris Paul fashion scored 13 of his 18 points in the second half.
“Chris is a general out there he’s going to control the tempo of the game,” Clippers head coach Vinny Del Negro said. “I thought he did a very good job at pushing the basketball. I like that he was a little more aggressive tonight, getting in the paint and making plays for us. That’s why he’s a special player and he has the ability to control the tempo of the game. He knows time and score. He knows when to attack but he’s going to make the right basketball play.”
The “right basketball play” ranged from things that bordered on phenomenal to mundane. With the Lakers edging their way back into it in the final five minutes, Paul re-entered the game and within seconds freed himself for an open 13-foot jump shot. He routinely got Pau Gasol to switch onto him in pick-and-roll situations, pulling the 7-footer away from the basket and toying with him off the dribble.
“Chris is great,” said DeAndre Jordan. “He sees a lot of plays before they actually happen and he’s such a threat offensively he opens it up for a lot of us. If you set good screens for him and have your hands up he’s going to find you.”
Through two games Paul has 27 assists and just three turnovers for a gaudy 9.0 assist-to-turnover ratio. He was second in the league in the category last year at 4.38. Despite his proficiency at leading teammates to baskets, Paul insists that is the simple part.
“When it comes to those assists, I told the guys on the team, ‘I have the easy part,’” said Paul, who had as many assists Friday as the Lakers did as a team. “All I have to do is pass it, they’re the ones who have to make the shots and stuff like that. It’s a credit to them.”
One of Paul’s best moments Friday came on what may only be termed an assist in hockey. Late in the fourth quarter he collapsed on Gasol as Kobe Bryant dumped an entry pass in from the corner. Paul ripped the ball away and simultaneously saved it over his head to Griffin as he tumbled over the courtside section of photographers strewn along the baseline. Griffin pushed the ball ahead to Jamal Crawford for a two-handed dunk in transition, giving the Clippers a 12-point lead with 2:50 to go.
It was plays like that, a mixture of skillfulness and competitive will, that led to Del Negro calling Paul the team’s general twice, once prior to the game and again afterwards. Paul proved it himself as he barked at teammates and Lakers and officials and when he curled his upper lip and calmly clenched his fist after that 13-footer in the fourth quarter.
After the game there was no celebration for the Clippers, no excessive display of emotion. It was the second game of the season, and as Paul suggested at shoot-around earlier in the day, an important contest within the Pacific Division and nothing more.
About 12 hours later Paul reiterated that sentiment, saying a victory over his team’s co-tenants in Staples Center did not have any extra meaning, “Not for what we’re trying to do. Not for what we’re trying to accomplish.”
It was business as usual for the league’s best point guard; nothing new, just a general in perfect command.