PAUL’S TOUGHNESS AND WILL ON FULL DISPLAY IN GAME 3
OAKLAND – Chris Paul seemed a little subdued for the better part of 48 hours.
His voice was tired. He walked a little slower. He was hurting.
The strained right hamstring that he has played through since Game 1 of the Clippers’ best-of-seven series against the Golden State Warriors was ailing him. He was sick.
But in the wake of his physical shortcomings, Paul made two key baskets down the stretch, dogged Stephen Curry into another off shooting night, and forced Curry into a miss in the final seconds to preserve Game 3 and reestablish home-court advantage in the series for the Clippers.
“You just try to find a way,” Paul said from the postgame dais inside Oracle Arena Thursday night. “Nobody cares about your hamstring. Nobody cares if you're sick or anything like that. You just try to find a way to win. I knew we had two days in between games, so you just leave it all out there. You play to win by any means necessary, I guess.”
Clippers head coach Doc Rivers said prior to Game 3 that he planned on monitoring his superstar point guard throughout the game. It would be “obvious” if Paul need to come out, Rivers added. And as Rivers watched Paul’s 15-point and 10-assist performance unfold he almost pulled him.
“I was going to take him out,” Rivers said. “I think it was in the middle of the third. I saw him grab his leg twice. I had actually gotten up to call for [Darren Collison] right before [Paul] picked up that fourth foul. It was late in the third. I just told our trainer, I think, that's it because you could see him. He was laboring.”
What happened next was typical Paul.
“When he came out, he said, ‘I'm good. Just trust me. Please trust me,’ and he was good,” Rivers said. “So, he's just a tough kid, a tough, tough kid.
A day later, as Paul gathered with the media at the team’s hotel in San Francisco, he was glad Rivers trusted him but joked that he would have forced his back in if he had to. It speaks to Paul’s competitive fire and his will to advance to his first NBA Finals.
“You know, he fights,” said Blake Griffin, who scored a game-high 32 points Thursday. “He fights and doesn't give up. Even if he's given up some height, he doesn't give up much. He's constantly fighting, and he knows the ins and outs of the game, so he's capable of doing things like that for us.”
Griffin has seen Paul play through injury for three seasons now. In Game 7 against Memphis in 2012, while battling a groin injury, Paul led the Clippers to their first series victory in six years. He played in the Olympics with a partially torn ligament in his right thumb. He returned from a separated shoulder earlier than expected this season and did not miss a game due to injury after that despite a sprained thumb, a sore ankle, sore groin and pain his still healing shoulder.
The season of bumps and bruises, and worse, likely makes handling the hamstring injury easier. He has an uncanny mental fortitude as it is.
“There are a lot of moments, and right now might be one,” Griffin said when asked if there is any one moment that stands out to exemplify Paul’s toughness. “I think the toughness that comes with Chris isn’t just his physical toughness, like ‘I’m going to play through this or play through that.’ But it’s his mental toughness. If told C.P. before a game, ‘In order for us to win you can’t shoot the ball at all. And he’d be, ‘Alright.’”
Griffin’s sentiment was echoed on Thursday night by Darren Collison, who played a season with Paul in New Orleans in 2010 before joining him again in Los Angeles this summer.
“It’s his will,” Collison said. “He just has it. Some guys have it. Some guys don’t. He’ll do whatever it takes to win a game.”
Sick. Hurt. Paul put it all behind him Thursday to help the Clippers win and tilt the series back in their favor.