By Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com
OAKLAND, Calif. — Game 6, a clinching opportunity, the chance to finally get away from a first round that tested them in agonizing ways the Clippers never could have imagined, and the best point guard in the world is hard to find.
Chris Paul is on the court for 34 minutes, except that it’s not really Chris Paul. Maybe Cliff Paul. Maybe. But the inability to turn the corner with the ball, the challenge of staying with the Warriors’ shooters in the backcourt, that is more like CP1.5.
The Clippers have a problem, in addition to the obvious of Golden State extending the series with the 100-99 win Thursday night at Oracle Arena. Make that problems, plural. They have an anything-can-happen Game 7 in Los Angeles on Saturday as part of a matchup where pretty much everything has happened before we even get to the actual crescendo, they have a wounded Paul while staring at a first-round elimination complete with a blown series lead for the second year in a row, and they have a concerning pattern.
Three seasons Paul has been on the Clippers, three seasons he has been banged up in the playoffs. A strained groin that carried over from the end of the regular season in 2012 followed by a strained hip flexor in the first round against Memphis, a bruised thumb in 2013 against the same Grizzlies, and now the strained hamstring and a bruised right thumb. He has persevered enough to play big minutes each time. He just hasn’t been able to be his best.
This time, the right leg has been a factor much of the way, from clearly being bothered in Game 1 to the Clippers openly appreciating the extra recuperation in the schedule break of two days off before Games 3 and 4, to Paul laboring along in Game 6. The hamstring was often wrapped when he was out. The attention was always on when he was in.
“He’s dealing with a lot of stuff,” coach Doc Rivers said. “But listen. He’s on the floor and Golden State doesn’t care, bottom line. He does have injuries, there’s no doubt about that. I’m sure (the Warriors) have some too, but I think once you’re on the floor, you’re on the floor. Chris is playing terrific to me defensively and that’s what we need him to do in this series. It probably does take a little bit of the offense away, but I’m good with that.”
Paul did give the Clippers 34 minutes on Thursday, a heavy workload under difficult circumstances with his mobility and ability to control the flow. But he made just 3-for-10 shots, had eight assists against four turnovers and scored nine points, his fewest of the series. All the Clippers combined to shoot 36.8 percent.
Now it’s Game 7, the first time they have had one at home in franchise history, and the Clippers have to rely a lot on hope over what to expect CP3 will be able to give them. An earlier stretch of two games over seven days was not close to being enough healing time, as it turned out. A treatment regiment, sometimes constant, was not enough.
He has about a day and a half of recovery this time, from when the Clippers left Oracle Arena late Thursday, all Friday and until the scheduled 7:30 p.m. tip Saturday. He has one more chance in the series. After that, who knows.
“I’m OK,” Paul said. “Tough game, bumps and bruises, you get through it. But we’ve just got to be ready for Game 7. Every game is different. Me and Blake (Griffin) both battled foul trouble tonight. We’ve just got to be ready for Game 7.”