PAUL'S GAME 2 WINNER MAY BE HIS BEST YET
LOS ANGELES – It took an inbounds pass, a screen, three fakes and 13.8 seconds but Chris Paul finally shook a few inches free of Tony Allen.
With his right hip slightly ahead of Allen’s he had enough space to bank in an off-balance, one-handed runner between Allen and a late contest by Darrell Arthur to win Game 2.
It was the umpteenth time Paul has saved the Clippers in the last two seasons, but this may have been his finest work. It came with the chance to take a 2-0 series lead against a 56-win team in the regular season, with the ball rolling in his palm, against one of the league’s premier defenders. Allen took to Twitter shortly after the game to voice his frustration.
“I’ve got to get that stop,” Allen wrote. “That’s what I do.”
Just like Paul making plays at “winning time” is what he does.
“[Allen] played as good of defense as he could have,” Paul said at the postgame dais, his son Little Chris, Blake Griffin, Jamal Crawford and Crawford’s young son, J.J., alongside him. “And I looked up to the clock and thought to myself I better get a shot off and tried to attack and luckily made the shot.”
Paul scored eight of his 24 points in the last 3:46, stifling a Memphis comeback, and added nine assists, four rebounds and a steal.
Since he arrived in Los Angeles in December 2011, he’s made 26 shots in the final two minutes of games where the score was within three points, including two on Monday night. Out of the 25 prior, none had this sort of implication or pressure.
Yet Paul, who is seemingly close friends with anyone and everyone away from the court, maintained that steely demeanor that characterizes his play. As the shot caromed home and chaos ensured around him, Paul walked calmly towards the baseline corner and barely even pumped his fist, a gruff snarl on his face. The red-shirted patrons inside Staples Center chanted “C-P-3” brazenly through the night, Griffin and Crawford swallowed him with a massive hug and dozens of writers wrote and rewrote another chapter in the lore of Chris Paul’s ability in the clutch.
Paul was already thinking of Game 3, more than 2,000 miles away.
“We just held serve,” Paul said. “Now we’ve got to go down to Memphis and try to steal a game. We’ve got to be greedy.”
Others though, were a little more reflective. Paul’s teammates and the Grizzlies lauded him after the game. Ryan Hollins said he’d never been a part of a game like that in the playoffs. Memphis point guard Mike Conley said “that’s what great players do.” Clippers head coach Vinny Del Negro said, “If you’re competitive that’s what you love, Chris loves that part [of the game].”
Another guy who has long been known to love those moments of a game is former Finals MVP Chauncey Billups, who received the inbounds pass before passing the ball to Crawford who ultimately got it in the hands of Paul for the game-winner.
“It was tough,” said Billups. “It’s funny. We tried to get Tony Allen off of [Paul], setting screens and trying to get him to switch. But he didn’t want to switch. So, he got back out there and he actually played great defense on the play. It was just a great offensive play by Chris.”
It was also a play that Paul works on constantly at the end of practice in positional drills, turning the corner and flipping in one-handed bank shots or floaters. Billups called it "money."
“Not all great players are clutch,” Billups said. “But Chris has proven to be one of the best clutch players in the game. Anytime we get in those positions, he’s our closer.”