The city of Los Angeles may not have Phil Jackson, but Chris Paul is doing his best to carry on some of the Zen Master’s most notable traits. Remember how Jackson would never call timeouts when his team was on the bad end of a big run? Timeouts were considered to be bailouts. Jackson wanted his team to figure it out, to work through it, and to learn something in the process.
He was the ultimate believer in throwing your kid in the lake and seeing if they could float, so to speak. Well, Paul did the same in Salt Lake against the Jazz, leaning heavily on Blake Griffin (30 points, 11 rebounds) in a matchup that you would think favored him (against matador defender Mo Williams) more.
It might be easy to mistake Paul’s general pacifist approach to much of the game as a weakness, but he is an absolute terror when provoked. The Utah Jazz didn’t intentionally antagonize him any specific way, but there was a play tonight that woke Paul up from his state of meditation.
It’s a hard thing to do, but the Jazz embarrassed Paul. At about the 6 minute mark of the fourth quarter, the Jazz were still clinging to a lead they built earlier in the game behind their brutally efficient offensive effort. Utah was inbounding the ball under their own rim, and Chris Paul had his back turned to inbounder Paul Millsap. In a bang-bang play, Millsap lobbed a little pass over Paul’s head to Mo Williams in the paint, who put it in before Paul had realized where the ball was or what was going on.
Paul looked like a fool. And for all the patience Paul exercises throughout the game, he was going to let that slide. On the very next possession, Paul raced down court, not even consider passing. He was getting those two points back. And the lead. And the game.
The Utah Jazz had been great. They had thoroughly outplayed the Clippers in every sense of the word up until this point, but now they were faced with the very real scenario of an angry Chris Paul in a high screen and roll. And with no Derrick Favors in the lineup, it would be up Al Jefferson trying to be something other than a traffic cone for Paul to blow by.
The results weren’t pretty. Paul (14 points, 9 assists) ate poor Al Jefferson alive at the top of the key on switches, hedges and drops to the paint, scoring eight points and dishing out two assists in the final six minutes, including the go-ahead layup for the Clippers and an eventual 105-104 victory.
Despite the outcome, the Clippers screwed things up left and right all night long. They played terrible defense, letting Utah shoot 56 percent from the field. Vinny Del Negro kept Eric Bledsoe, probably the team’s best defender, on the bench for all but 11 minutes, even though he scored 10 points in that limited time. He had a player in his third game back after months and months away from basketball (Chauncey Billups) play a critical role down the stretch, which almost backfired in a serious way. There were so many things wrong — so many things that could have been better.
And while a win might mask those problems in the minds of many, don’t lump Paul in that group. A loss can be a great teaching moment, but on the road against a Western Conference foe that unintentionally embarrassed him? Paul decided to teach his opponents a lesson instead: don’t make him angry.