CP3 puts injuries, fatigue behind and lights up the Thunder

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Paul’s career night helps Clippers torch Thunder in opener

OKLAHOMA CITY – Before Chris Paul scorched Oklahoma City for 32 points with a hand so hot from downtown it would make Steph Curry melt, an Oklahoma City Thunder player suggested anybody stepping onto the floor should just keep their pains, sprains and strains to themselves.

It was a little shot at the Clippers’ All-everything point guard. Plenty of Los Angeles hand-wringing has gone on lately with Paul nursing a strained right hamstring that needs rest and a sprained left thumb that is best off avoiding contact. And maybe the worry was for good reason: Paul’s scoring drooped against Golden State, his shooting percentage sagged to 40 and even his assists had slipped. Coach Doc Rivers contorted his face into a puddle of concern when asked about Paul’s speed.

Then came Paul’s takeover of  Game 7 of that uniquely emotional first-round series. He punished the Warriors for 22 points, 14 assists and four steals in 42 minutes, advancing the Clippers into the conference semifinals against speed-demon counterpart Russell Westbrook and the soon-to-be-named MVP Kevin Durant.

Man, just got done with Steph and then go right on to Russell, right?” Paul said following Saturday’s Game 7 win. “Y’all say a special prayer for me tonight.”

Do you believe in miracle healing?

“You could see it, like [Sunday] he wasn’t moving well,” Rivers said. “Today at shootaround, you just felt like he was moving better.

No one could have predicted what would happen Monday night: 32 points that stacked up with eight rapid-fire, rub-your-eyes 3-pointers raining from every angle on the floor. Paul hit all five of his attempts in the first quarter. That tied his career high. His sixth came after teasing Derek Fisher at the left arc, tip-toeing, spinning and firing. No. 7 was an impossible heave from the corner as 270-pound Thunder center Kendrick Perkins body bumped him to the floor without a call. No. 8 in a row came on a step-back against Caron Butler, caught in no man’s land trying to protect against Paul slicing-and-dicing him to the paint.

Finally, at the 5:19 mark of the third quarter, Paul missed his lone attempt from deep. But, seriously, 8-for-9?

“That’s what I do, that’s what I do,” Paul said grinning. “That is a lie. … This one definitely goes down in the history books for me. Don’t count on it for Game 2.”

The barrage ended Game 1 of this Western Conference semifinal almost before it began. The Thunder jumped out to a 16-10 lead and then, wham-o, it was gone and the running Clippers, with hometown kid Blake Griffin sensing Paul’s sizzle and working to free him with screens on possession after possession, were off. It was 39-25 after one quarter and 69-52 at the half.

Paul exited with 38.1 seconds left in the third quarter and sat out the rest of the 122-105 victory.

The Thunder, coming off their own grueling, seven-game series against Memphis, simply stated the obvious after being blow away by CP3.

“He hit eight 3s,” said the Thunder’s Westbrook, who led OKC with 29 points on 9-for-14 shooting. “You can’t do too much but contest. He hit some tough shots. We’ll live with that.”

Rivers compared Paul’s level of aggressiveness, which included 12-for-14 shooting overall, 10 assists and a pair of turnovers in 28 minutes, to only one other night this season, when he attacked Dallas for 31 points and nine assists the night after going an unthinkable 0-for-12 at New Orleans.

“Other than that, not this aggressive,” Rivers said. “We needed it though. We needed a tone-setter because turning around that quickly [from the Warriors series], I think he felt that he needed to set the tone.”

Nagging health issues have come into question in each of his two postseasons with the Clippers. In his ninth season overall, the seven-time All-Star has never made it beyond the second round, and this one is only Paul’s third appearance in the semifinals. He got there in his first season with L.A., but a groin issue and Griffin’s knee injury from the first round paved the way for a Spurs sweep.

In 2008 with the New Orleans Hornets, Paul, David West, Tyson Chandler and Peja Stojakovic lost Game 7 at home to the Spurs.

Paul, who turns 29 on Tuesday, is arguably the game’s best player never to make it to a conference final. He’s widely considered the league’s most dangerous point guard, but he knows whatever accolades he accumulates, the postseason is where a player’s legacy is ultimately written.

It’s a weight he bears.

“I’ve never been past the second round,” Paul said. “Every year you feel like you’re on that team. I remember that team I was on in ’08, we lost Game 7 to the Spurs and you just feel like you’re always going to be back there and that’s not the case. This team here I think is a special team. Not only do we have a good team, it’s fun to be around each other.”

They stuck together through one of the most emotionally taxing weeks any of them will ever have during the Donald Sterling disaster. They persevered against the Warriors and now have a fast lead on the Thunder and their two 25-year-old stars who have already played in two West finals and one NBA finals.

Maybe this is his time. Paul has a co-star, a deep and talented team around him and coach who seems to have the pulse of his players.

Paul’s pains, sprains and strains might be out in the public forum. And maybe he plays them up at times for dramatic effect. The drama he delivered Monday night was real, and so too are his Clippers.


VIDEO: Chris Paul hits a career-high eight 3-pointers to lift Clippers

22 Comments

  1. CD says:

    Get rid of these dumb women during the videos. People don’t want to hear those voices!

  2. justsayin says:

    The NBA needs to improve the officiating even it means putting a lead ref on a monitor to correct calls with a damn Tivo.
    People are so paranoid that we have folks here claiming the nba is going to cheat for each side.

    All I know is they weren’t the difference in this game. Refs can’t make you rain threes!
    And the Clips answered my concern whether they would come out of the 1st rd focused or frazzled.

  3. lowe g says:

    no suspension gonna happen, because obviously the NBA, wants OKC to reach the finals. thats why they made sure Memphis wont advance in the second round of the playoffs. NBA is Rigged!!!

    • skrutz says:

      Oh, its so rigged. It’s obvious. Every play is rigged, pretty much. All part of a master plan to… do what? Why would the NBA care that much if OKC reached the Finals? They still make tons of money, whoever is there. Maybe even more if its an underdog story.

  4. lowe g says:

    if its the memphis grizzlies in the place of OKC, i think we know whats gonna happen to the Clippers… Grizzlies is better than these two teams playing for the second round…

  5. kk says:

    ibaka should not get suspended for that so called “kick”. if you watched the replay, griffin clamped his legs around ibaka’s legs, making it difficult to remove his foot. it was exaggerated by griffin as ibaka tried to free his foot. i actually think it should have been a double technical instead but of course the refs only catch the reaction not the instigation.

    • skrutz says:

      Im a Clips fan, and that irked me – Blake definitely held his legs. I want to cheer for (mostly) fair play! Not cheap stuff!

  6. MAC says:

    OKC will get swept.

  7. Jorel says:

    .I agree, if you go by the books and have already set the precedence by suspending Blair and Randolph for similar actions then he should be out game two. The only problem with that is the league wanted the Spurs and Thunder to win those series for revenue proposes, which In this case I could see them edging for the Clippers because of the Sterling scandal. We will see but most likely The NBA will do nothing this time around.

    • justsayin says:

      Seriously did any of you guys saying it was a kick even LOOK at the video???

      It’s like saying I punched you because I yanked my arm out of a two-handed grip that you wouldn’t release.

  8. sean says:

    I think league should act against Ibaka for kicking BG in 3rd Q.
    He can’t punch under the line.
    He can’t kick around, shove around like that.
    This is basketball, not ultimate fighting.
    It’s not being physical and aggressive.
    It’s just disgusting.

    • justsayin says:

      I’m pulling for the Clips and even I thought Blake was instigating and should’ve gotten that T.

      He wasn’t even kicked that was just Ibaka ripping his leg out of an illegal hold.

      C’mon BG – dont be like that, man..

  9. Game Time says:

    The Clippers are a high scoring team. It’s there identity along with the Lob City. When they try to be a strictly defensive team is when they lose games or have really close ones. Defense does win championships, but you have to score too.

  10. Nbafan says:

    The Pacers and OKC seem to not play to their full potential until they are on the brink of elimination or feel like they really have to. Please just play hard every game so your fans do not have to suffer disappointment and mini heart attacks.

  11. celentano says:

    face the facts,okc are done with russel+durant!i put my money on the clippers this round.

  12. OKc2014 says:

    Memphis Grizzlies fans, get over it, you will beat OKC next year. KD and MW will not stick around much longer, Clippers will take them out

  13. thespectator says:

    this series will def go down to the wire…KD will prolly go off in game 2 get a near triple double. …

  14. Ratings > Game says:

    will the league suspend Ibaka for kicking Blake like they suspended Z-bo?

  15. mee(a)t says:

    I actually watched the whole game…. I should have went to sleep at the end of the third quarter be the results looked like the game ended.

  16. Tony D says:

    Clippers proved they have the means to win and make it to the finals. Question is can they keep up this level(or more) of play for the next games.

    • Rickson says:

      Clippers is really good team but until they don’t take care there game thats when every things fall but i totally agree with you