PAUL SETS TONE FROM DISTANCE
OKLAHOMA CITY – Chris Paul said Oklahoma City will always have a place in his heart.
He played at Chesapeake Energy Arena when it was called the Ford Center, before the Sonics relocated, before the NBA became a fixture in the Sooner State.
Paul, who turned 29 on Tuesday, has always been comfortable here. Just how comfortable was not quite evident until Monday’s history-making Game 1 performance in the Western Conference Semifinals.
The Clippers wrestled home-court advantage from the host Thunder with a 122-105 victory that was nary that close. Paul, as he has so many times in his three years with the Clippers, commandeered the game. And while he typically does so as a passer on Monday it was his shooting that did Oklahoma City in.
“He came out and set the tone right from the start,” Jamal Crawford said. “He came out more aggressive offensively than he does and I think guys were able to relax and we were able to get a nice rhythm.”
Paul scored 32 points on 12-for-14 shooting with 10 assists. He made his first eight 3-pointers of Game 1, including six in the first half. There were step-backs and hesitation dribbles that freed him for more. He was constantly in attack mode and rolling “downhill” as Doc Rivers described.
For Paul, it was a matter of figuring out precisely what the Clippers needed and adapting his game accordingly.
“I try to take what’s given to me and early I think the shot clock might have been running down on one of the first shots that I took,” Paul said. “And I made it and then I kept trying to be aggressive. I didn’t want to force it or anything like that because I’m one of those people when you’re hot and you take a bad shot then it’s gone.”
“He’s so smart,” Rivers admitted.
Willie Green, who has played three seasons with Paul including 2010 when they were together in New Orleans and two in Los Angeles, is one of Paul’s best friends. Green said Paul’s ability to adjust to what each situation calls for places him among the league’s best.
“I think that defines great players,” Green said. “They’re capable of doing whatever it takes to win basketball games. Some nights it’s defense, some nights it’s passing, some nights it’s hitting big shots, taking charges, all the little things. That’s why those guys are as great as they are and C.P. is one of them.”
Shooting is not necessarily the way he does it.
“That’s what I do,” Paul said before looking at Blake Griffin next to him at the postgame dais and grinning. “That is a lie. I don’t know. It was just one of those nights. I promise you it has to be a career high. This one will definitely go down in the history books for me. Don’t count on it for Game 2, I can tell you that.”
Paul’s eight 3-pointers surpassed his career high in the Playoffs and regular season by three. It also set a Clippers’ postseason record and continued a stretch of brilliant shooting. Since the Playoffs tipped off on Apr. 20, Paul is 25-of-46 from distance (54.3 percent).
Until this season his best 3-point shooting effort in the postseason was 13 makes in 12 games in 2008. He’s nearly doubled that in eight games this season.
“It’s good to see him just come out and be aggressive,” Green said. “I think with so many weapons he comes out and looks to pass so much but sometimes we need him to be aggressive offensively.”
This time the aggressiveness ripped away the crowd’s energy in Oklahoma City, a group that cheered him when he was introduced and did for his first two NBA seasons when he was a Hornet.
“[Oklahoma’s] where I won Rookie of the Year,” Paul said. “It’s where I played my first two years. This is where I started to become a professional. But, once they throw the ball up, though, it’s basketball.”
And on Monday night it may have been basketball at its finest.