DEFENSE A ‘PRIORITY’ FOR PAUL ALL SEASON

There was a point in the Playoffs when Chris Paul morphed into a defensive stopper.

He has always been considered a top-flight defender. He’s led the league in steals per game six times, including this season (2.48 per game) and Monday was announced as First Team member of the NBA’s All-Defensive team for the third consecutive season.

But what Paul did in the opening round of the Playoffs was the kind of performance that has usually been reserved for specialists like Tony Allen and Bruce Bowen. Paul ceded some of his offensive output and stifled Stephen Curry, hounding him into 44 percent shooting and 3.7 turnovers per game and allowing 17 points or fewer in three games and just 7-for-17 from the field in Game 7.

Former Warriors head coach Mark Jackson called Paul an “elite” defender. And several of Paul’s teammates marveled at the work he did against one of the league’s most dynamic scoring point guards.

Paul’s work against Curry magnified what he’s capable of defensively. He’s not simply a master of passing lanes. He prepares diligently. His attention to detail seemingly allows him to know opposing teams’ play as well as anyone on the court.

The Clippers were two points per 100 possessions better defensively with Paul on the floor in the regular season. He had 11 games with four steals or more and was one of the primary reasons the Clippers led the NBA in points off turnovers. To some extent, as much as teams game-planned for the league’s best point guard, they also had to plan for how to avoid him heading the fast-break fueled offense the Clippers thrived in.

Back in December, before Paul missed a month with a separated shoulder, he effectively shut down opposing point guards, including fellow All-Stars Damian Lillard and Curry, in five straight games. Asked about the stretch of dominance defensively, Paul said, “My priority is the defensive end and trying to make sure these guys don’t get going.”

It carried over beyond the regular season, and for the third season in a row, and sixth time overall in his career, voters recognized that priority as well.