Paul Fights Through Strained Hamstring To Send Spurs Home

Rowan Kavner


LOS ANGELES – “Don’t let go of the rope.”

That saying from head coach Doc Rivers is what Chris Paul, who strained his left hamstring while dribbling down the right side of the court in the first quarter only to return and play one of the grittiest, gutsiest and greatest games of his career, thought as the seconds ticked down during the most memorable game of the most memorable series of the NBA’s first round.

“At any time, we could’ve let go of the rope and just thought, ‘It’s these guys, we fought hard,’” Paul said as the Clippers battled the Spurs. “We could’ve conceded, but we kept fighting and guys made plays to win.”

Individually, Paul kept fighting. His hamstring injury forced him out late in the first and early in the second quarter before returning to play on one leg the rest of the night.

And while “guys made plays to win,” individually, it was Paul’s play specifically that allowed the Clippers to conquer the Spurs, hitting a shot off the glass with a second remaining to send home the defending champions.

Blake Griffin, who had a triple-double in the game himself, couldn’t find the words to describe Paul’s performance, gutting out the injury to shoot 9-for-13 from the field and 5-for-6 from 3-point range while scoring 27 points and dishing out six assists with only one turnover.

“There’s not really a word,” Griffin said. “It was unbelievable, to be injured like that … I asked him, ‘What can you do, can you do anything?’ He’s like, ‘We’ll see.’ The way he played, not only the way he played, but just his spirit, his resolve; I mean, you guys saw the shots, but you don’t see the timeouts, in the huddles, things like that. It was huge.”

Paul couldn’t sleep the night before the game. He woke up, went to his son’s game at 9:45 a.m., and was told by his son that he had to beat the Spurs that night.

Less than a quarter into the game he “had to win,” he wasn’t sure if he’d be able to play at all. It seemed unfair for Paul, who just got through his first-ever season playing all 82 games.

“We do everything we can to prepare for a game,” Paul said. “You get your rest, you train, you workout, you eat right, try to take of your body, and I was just overcome with emotion because I was frustrated. I was like, all this time, all season long, and then Game 7 my body’s going to let me down.”

There were tears. Not just after the injury, as Paul sat with his head in his hands before walking back to the locker room momentarily. But also afterward, the catharsis a result of persevering through the pain, but mostly helping a maligned Clippers group beat a team not many gave them a chance against.

It was cathartic not just for Paul, but for everyone part of the back-and-forth series.

“I’m an emotional guy,” said J.J. Redick, who added two huge 3-pointers late to put the Clippers in position to win. “I’m crying with Chris, and it just adds to his legend. Twenty years from now I’m going to talk about this series and this game and that little guy, how much heart he has. It’s crazy.”

Paul remembers a moment after the game with Redick, thinking about everything that had gone on this season. He thought about Griffin. He thought about DeAndre Jordan, who had a career year on the glass and shooting.

It was emotional for him afterward, just as it was during the game, hobbling through the pain to push the Clippers past the Spurs. When he first felt the pull at his hamstring, he didn’t know if he’d be able to get back on the court.

“I’ve hurt my hamstring before, and a couple of those times I couldn’t come back,” Paul said. “I said it before, our training staff is amazing, the amount of people that we have day in and day out trying to make sure that we’re ready to play.”

He sat stone-faced on the bench for a couple minutes before walking back to the locker room, unsure what was next.

Head coach Doc Rivers remembers head athletic trainer Jasen Powell coming over to him and letting him know Paul was going to give it a go.

“He’s just a tough kid,” Rivers said. “That’s it. Tough. He’s a street fighter. He really is. I love him to death because of his will.”

By the middle of the second quarter, Paul was back on the court. By the end of the second quarter, he’d already added four points to the scoreboard to help the Clippers lead at the half.  In the second half, after a long break in which the adrenaline could’ve wore off, Paul returned to score 18 points and hit 4-of-5 shots from long range.

“I told somebody else, I’ve never seen anything like that,” said Austin Rivers. “This dude, with six minutes left in the game, he had tears down his eyes and I’m like, ‘Man, he is hurt.’ He just kept going.

“That was unbelievable. I don’t really praise a lot of people, but that was just an unbelievable experience to see a guy do that. You don’t understand the impact that has on the team, to see your leader willing to die for your team.”

Paul did just enough to push the Clippers past the defending champions. As the dust settles on one of the best first-round series perhaps ever, the attention begins to turns to the Rockets, where Paul’s availability is now in question.

Doc Rivers said he’s not sure whether or not Paul will play the first game, but his guess immediately after the win was Paul would be out.

“Someone’s going to have to step up,” Rivers said.

If it were up to Paul, he’d try to do it again. 

“I know my grandmother back in North Carolina is praying right now,” Paul said. “She’s praying, and she’ll let my mom pray over it and all that too, and it will be all right.”

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Paul sends the Clippers To Round 2

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