CHRIS PAUL DOES IT AGAIN IN THE CLUTCH
INDIANAPOLIS – There were still almost two and a half minutes left Thursday when Chris Paul had seen enough of the Indiana Pacers’ comeback attempt.
They had put together a 13-point run, slicing the Clippers once comfortable lead to four, and the Bankers Life Fieldhouse crowd was at full tilt. That’s when Paul darted into the lane around a ball screen from Blake Griffin, freed himself with a hop step to his right and nailed a 16-footer over Tyler Hansbrough.
The Clippers needed two more twisting layups from Paul and a pair of free throws in the final seconds to salt away their 99-91 victory over the streaking Pacers. But it was Paul’s first jumper that calmed things down and ultimately sent the Clippers (42-18) to their seventh time in their last eight outings.
Paul’s clutch finish was a movie his teammates have grown accustomed to watching.
“I’ve seen it so many times now,” said Jamal Crawford, who in his 13th NBA season is playing alongside his firs alongside Paul. “You watch it from afar when you’re not playing with him but when you play with him you understand. Him and Chauncey [Billups] out there together, the knowledge that those guys have, they’re going to find the weakness in the defense and expose it.”
Paul excelled in taking advantage of the Pacers’ defense, even prior to the fourth quarter. He routinely got David West, Ian Mahinmi, Jeff Pendergraph and Hansbrough to switch on the pick-and-roll, drew them away from the basket and went to work.
“When we set screens for him and he gets a good head of steam either way he can go left or right it doesn’t matter,” Clippers head coach Vinny Del Negro said.
He scored 29 points on 11-for-18 shooting and was a perfect 3-for-3 in the final 2:26 with the game on the line.
“We opened up the court at the end for him and Chris is either going to knock shots down or make the right basketball play,” Del Negro added. “We all have tremendous confidence in that and that’s what star players do they show up in the biggest moments.”
Paul has shown up in the clutch his entire career, but it’s been front and center in his two years with the Clippers.
In the final three minutes of the fourth quarter of games where the margin is within five points, Paul is 12-for-27 (44.4%) this season. More than two dozen players have had more opportunities this year because the Clippers are second in the league in double-digit victories. However, going back to last season, Paul had more field goals in those situations (32) than any player other than Kevin Durant.
“He’s always going to make the smart play,” Billups said of Paul’s play in the fourth quarter. “Whether or not he makes the shot or not, he’s always going to make the right play. I just love to see him take over games like that.
“That is something you’re either blessed to have or sorry you don’t got it. And he’s got it.”
Paul says the mentality in the fourth quarter of close games requires a hatred of losing. And despite the six-time All-Star and perennial MVP candidate handing out four of his eight assists in the first quarter and scoring 17 points in the second half, several Pacers said afterwards that they felt like they handled him defensively. Well, until winning time came around.
“I thought we did a good job on him,” Pacers guard George Hill said. “We contested shots all the way to the rim. He was just able to finish.”
And in the end, that’s all Paul cares about: finishing.