How good is Chris Paul at stealing the basketball? He has led the league in steals per game five times, including the last three seasons. He’s had more than 150 or more steals six times. Although the stat has only been officially tracked by the NBA since 1973, Paul has still managed to break into the top 60 all-time. In eight seasons he has 1,331. He is more than a ball hawk. He takes chances, and often succeeds, in passing lanes, baits opponents into mistakes and takes advantage, and, of course, sometimes simply rips the ball away from people. His combination of timing, quick hands, footwork and instinct make him a perennial All-Defensive team candidate and a perfect head of the snake for an ever-improving Clippers defense.

Here is a list of Paul’s best five steals from 2012-13, narrowed down from his team-high 169 during the regular season:

5. 1/9/13 vs. Mavericks: Catch Me If You Can

This play exemplifies Paul’s ability to pounce on passes that sort of meander through the passing lane. With the game tied at 80 early in the fourth quarter, Dirk Nowitzki tries to turn the corner on Lamar Odom. Nowitzki makes the mistake of trying to swing it back over his shoulder to Vince Carter with Paul lurking a few steps away. Paul darted in front of Carter, tipped the pass away, tracked it down at midcourt and converted a go-ahead layup on the other end. Take note of two things: Paul’s timing, reading the play and pouncing on it and, secondly, his awareness of whom he is guarding. Roddy Beaubois is standing a foot behind the 3-point arc and Paul knows there is no reason to crowd him. Beaubois has shot worse than 30 percent from distance in each of the last two seasons.

4. 11/23/12 at Nets: Rip Cord

In a matchup of superstar point guards, who are forever linked due to the proximity to each other in which they were drafted, it is actually Paul switching off Deron Williams onto the bigger Joe Johnson that makes this play. While Paul is mostly known for swiping passes and digging on post players to knock the ball free, he is also certainly capable at a good, old fashioned rip. Here Johnson, who is seven inches and nearly 60 pounds bigger than Paul, tries to back him down after Paul switched onto him near the left wing. Johnson dribbles four times with his left hand and probably should have avoided the fifth. Paul swipes it away from him, Caron Butler retrieves it and Paul winds up splitting Johnson and Williams on the other end for an assist to DeAndre Jordan.

3. 3/13/13 vs. Grizzlies: Breaking Through the Screen Door

Almost as soon as Clippers broadcaster Michael Smith says, “The Clippers are not getting any easy plays,” Paul manufactures one. The Grizzlies drop the ball to Marc Gasol in the high post. The Memphis big man surveys the court for a moment and looks to hand the ball off to Mike Conley, who is peeling around a Gasol screen. Paul stays on Conley’s hip, strips the ball away, slams on the brakes before going out of bounds and finds Blake Griffin for an and-one layup around Tony Allen.

2. 1/4/13 vs. Lakers: Nash-ty Sequence

In about five seconds Paul gets a baseline jumper, steal and assist on an alley-oop to Griffin. Paul’s wide-open jumper made it 10-6 and after Steve Nash received the inbounds pass Paul appeared to be casually retreating to the opposite end of the floor. As he turns his shoulders back towards Nash he reads the play, tips Nash’s chest pass, intercepts it and before the Lakers could recover finds Griffin for an alley-oop. It was quite a way to start their first home game of the New Year.

1. 11/28/12 vs. Timberwolves: Paul’s Perfection

For the second time in the offseason top five series Minnesota’s Andrei Kirilenko winds up on the wrong end of the No. 1 play. Much like the No. 5 play above, Paul sags off an opposing point guard not known for his perimeter shooting skills. As Kirilenko drives, Griffin slides off of Derrick Williams to protect the rim, but Paul sinks into the spot occupied by Griffin. Kirilenko’s pass is too hard to catch, but Paul deflects it, tracks it down and throws it off Kirilenko as he stumbles into the first row. “Oh what a play,” Smith says… and he is absolutely right. 

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