LOS ANGELES – This is what the Clippers imagined, or dreamed, when they traded for Chris Paul just before the regular season. This night, this series and this situation.
Monday at Staples Center was his latest moment as Paul made four of five shots in OT to go along with a 27-point, seven-assist and game-high nine-rebound night. That was after 24 points and 11 assists on Saturday in Game 3, which was shortly after the seven assists in the fourth quarter alone of Game 1 (in which he had 11 dimes overall) to help drive the historic comeback win from 20 points down with 7 1/2 minutes remaining.
All of which puts the Clippers in this situation: up 3-1 on the Grizzlies with the chance to close out the first round Wednesday in Memphis in what would be their first series win since 2006.
“Everyone knows it’s obviously the playoffs,” coach Vinny Del Negro said. “Chris is so good at not only making plays for himself, but making the right play, which is more important at times and getting his teammates involved. He understands the moment. He’s picking his spots when he needs to be aggressive offensively and when he needs to run the team a little bit more and get the ball to certain guys that maybe have it going a little bit, whether it’s Blake (Griffin) in the post or Mo (Williams) on a flare or Randy (Foye) or whoever. That’s what makes him a star.”
“I don’t think it’s taught,” said Kenyon Martin, an opponent for many years and now a teammate. “You just have to have it.”
That’s the part that cannot be measured, although it has long been obvious that Paul has few rivals in the entire league for leadership and wanting the big moments. His work off the court in New Orleans, before the blockbuster deal made him a Clipper, drew raves. The tangible is that he is averaging 23.5 points, 8.8 assists and five rebounds in 40 minutes through the first four games.
“I didn’t know what to imagine,” Paul said when asked if this was what he thought possible at the time of the trade. “I was excited about the opportunity to come here and what we had. But we still haven’t done anything yet. We’re having fun and all that’s good and well, but we did what we were supposed to do, and that’s win our home games. The series is not over yet.”
Correct. But the Clippers need only avoid a three-game losing streak to advance to the second round to face the Spurs, which would mean a Paul-Tony Parker mega-showdown at point guard. Some moment.