There’s a rather silly theory some talking heads — usually not NBA guys — that Chris Paul lacked the internal fortitude and leadership to win big games. That was always crap, but it was out there.
Anyone who says that after Saturday night is a fool.
The Clippers and Spurs faced off in one of the greatest — if not the greatest — first round series ever and it took 27 points from Paul on a night he injured his hamstring to get the win over the Spurs. Paul was nothing short of brilliant, hitting 9-of-13 shots, including 5-of-6 from three. That includes the game winner.
Hobbled Chris Paul, Clippers’ role players do just enough to dethrone Spurs in Game 7
There is not going to be a better series these playoffs.
As they had for six games before, the Spurs and Clippers went back and forth in Game 7 Saturday night trading blows — there were 31 lead changes and 16 ties. Traditionally Game 7s see players get tight, shooting percentages drop, there are ugly turnovers. This game — while not flawless — was well played by both teams, with big shots and role players stepping up.
But nobody stepped up more than Chris Paul.
With 1:25 left in the first quarter he had to leave the game and went back to the Clippers locker room with what is officially a strained hamstring. But that was not going to keep him out of the game. CP3 had 27 points on 9-of-13 shooting, plus had six assists as he continued to orchestrate the Clippers’ offense.
Then, with the game tied 109-109 and just 8.8 seconds remaining, Paul won the series.
The Spurs had one second to try and tie the game, but a time keeping screw-up tipped the play, and Matt Barnes knocked away an alley-oop attempt to Kawhi Leonard.
The Clippers won 111-109 and take the series 4-3. They advance to face the Houston Rockets starting Monday in Houston.
Paul is so bothered by the hamstring Doc Rivers said he’s not sure if CP3 can play in Game 1 of the next round.
“With two minutes left, Tim Duncan walks up to me and says ‘This is the first round?'” Rivers said. “I was thinking the same thing.”
What had been key for the Clippers all series was getting other guys to step up, not just Paul and Blake Griffin. They got that Saturday night. Matt Barnes had 17 points, a key offensive rebound late, then knocked away the alley-oop attempt on the final play of the game. He played his best game of the series.
Jamal Crawford was the other key. The Clippers had to play a stretch in the first half without Paul due to the injury, and then Blake Griffin sat with foul trouble, yet the Clippers stayed close in an excellent game because Crawford got hot. He had 12 of his 15 points in the first half when the Clippers needed them to stay close to the Spurs.
“Jamal was huge, Matt Barnes was huge for us tonight,” Rivers said. “I thought that (stretch with the bench in the first half) was the difference in the game, that stretch. They could have gotten away from us with our two key guys out of the game, and they didn’t.”
If this is Tim Duncan’s final game, the future first-ballot Hall of Fame went out on a vintage note. Ducan, whose contract is up and hasn’t announced if he plans to return at age 39, scored 27 points on 11-of-16 shooting, plus had 11 rebounds. He was nothing short of brilliant.
Tony Parker added 20 points, and Danny Green finally broke out with 16 plus made a couple amazing defensive blocks.
This was a game with so many wild moments, but maybe the most ridiculous exchange came at the end of the third. First Austin Rivers tried to foul Manu Ginobili in the backcourt (the Clips had a foul to give) but Manu anticipated it and went into a shooting motion and got the call and three free throws. It was a by-the-book call but one where the refs rarely give it to the shooter. That left just a few seconds on the clock, CP3 brought the ball back up the floor and knocked down a ridiculous 28-foot, off-balance, banked-in three. It was the Clippers by one after three, 79-78.
It was like this all game.
The Spurs didn’t lose this game; the Clippers won it.
Chris Paul banks in game winner to lift Clippers past Spurs (VIDEO)
Chris Paul left the game with 1:25 left in the first quarter because he strained his hamstring. For the rest of the game he was hobbled, not nearly as explosive, yet he kept making plays because he’s the smartest point guard in the game today.
Then, with the game on the line — tied 109-109 with 8.8 seconds left — he made the play that dethroned the reigning champions.
Paul got the ball out top with Danny Green on him (Kawhi Leonard was shadowing the hot J.J. Redick), drove right and got close to the paint, put his body into Green then leaned back to create a little space and hit a bank high off the glass that had to arc over the helping Tim Duncan. (The Spurs had a chance to tie but a time keeping screwup tipped the play, and Matt Barnes knocked away an alley-oop attempt to Kawhi Leonard.)
It was going to take a shot like that to win this, the best first-round series in recent memory. It’s fitting it should come from CP3.
Chris Paul strains hamstring, heads to locker room, but returns
Here is how key Chris Paul has been to Los Angeles in the playoffs: When he’s been on the floor in the first six games the Clippers are +12, when he sits they are -17.
So when he pulled up with a strained hamstring late in the first quarter, all of Clippers nation held its breath.
Paul was leading a fast break when he reached back and grabbed his hamstring — it didn’t stop him from shouldering Patty Mills, creating space and draining a three. But he almost instantly went to the bench and put his head in his hands.
Then he went to the locker room.
He came back out eight minutes later, stretched on the bench for a second, then re-entered the game to a huge ovation from the fans. That said, he was clearly hobbling, not moving well at all. His lateral movement was noticeably slower.
Thanks to nine points from Jamal Crawford, the Clippers were only -2 with Paul out, staying right with the Spurs in a tight Game 7.
The Clippers were impressive in their Game 6 win. After five games where the Clippers struggled to close out games — particularly Blake Griffin, who was 4-of-21 shooting in the fourth in games 1-5 — they out executed the defending champions down the stretch in Game 6. Griffin was phenomenal on both ends, shooting 3-of-3 in the fourth quarter plus having a big block on Tim Duncan.
Can the Clippers do that again? Can they build on that momentum? That’s what Jenna Corrado and I discuss in this latest PBT Extra.
I think the Clippers can do it again. Still, this game is going to be a coin flip.