By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com
DALLAS — For years, Mavericks fans dreamed of Chris Paul playing for their team. These days, the Los Angeles Clippers All-Star point guard only gives them nightmares.
Remember his 0-for-12 line in Wednesday’s loss at his former stomping ground in New Orleans? Paul sure did. He headed to the American Airlines Center early Thursday with teammates Reggie Bullock and Willie Green to get some shots up. The result: a game-high 31 points on 9-for-18 shooting overall, 4-for-8 from beyond the arc and 9-for-10 from the free-throw line. He added nine assists in the Clippers’ 109-103 come-from-behind victory that pushed Dallas out of the playoff picture, at least temporarily.
Afterward Paul said what no Dallas fan wants to hear.
“I’ve always loved playing here in Dallas to tell you the truth,” he said. “I saw a couple [shots] go through early and had a nice rhythm.”
Paul had nine points, including two big free throws to seal it with 12.6 seconds left, in the fourth quarter. For the third time this season, the Clippers squashed the Mavs with massive late-game momentum swings. After his field-goal-less Wednesday, Paul buried his first two shots of the game, including swishing a 3-pointer.
“Yeah, you knew,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. “Well, I didn’t really know it, but once he made that first 3, we were good, and that was good. It was good to see him — he didn’t hesitate at all. He was looking for his shot and running the team at the same time, and that’s what we want him to do every night.”
Paul was not solely motivated by Wednesday’s rare stinker, but by the intense pain he could practically feel all over again in his right shoulder. The last time he played in Dallas on Jan. 3, he crashed to the floor and separated the shoulder. He’d miss the next six weeks. He said he’s still not all the back. The injury, he said, has messed with his shooting mechanics, still aches, has weakened his back beneath his shoulder blade and makes it difficult to sleep without discomfort.
It didn’t keep him from being ornery. In the third quarter, he shoved Shawn Marion and started a skirmish that netted him, Matt Barnes and Marion technical fouls.
In that Jan. 3 game, Paul had 19 points on 5-for-8 shooting and six assists before the injury occurred midway through the third quarter. The Clippers led 77-75 at the time. They won that one with a late surge with, to rub salt in the wound, a 20-point performance from Paul’s backup Darren Collison, who last season had a less-than-memorable one-and-done stint with Dallas.
Less than two weeks later, with Paul in a suit unable to play, Dallas blew a 17-point lead in the final 4:30.
Paul’s bounce-back game sets up a critical matchup Saturday night at Houston. At stake is the No. 3 seed. L.A. currently holds it down. Both teams have 22 losses. The Clippers won for the 51st time and the Rockets got their 49th win Thursday.
“It was big for us,” Paul said of getting the win. “This would have been a tough loss, especially after last night. Going into Houston is a big game, but it feels good to get a win on this trip.”