LOS ANGELES — In non-foul news, sort of, Chris Paul said he continues to recover from the strained left hamstring that sidelined him the first two games of the Western Conference semifinals against the Houston Rockets amid the possibility he could reach a full workload Tuesday night as the Clippers try to advance to their first-ever Western Conference finals.
In Game 3 Friday at Staples Center, Paul played without much burst in his return from the leg injury suffered in Game 7 of the first-round series against the San Antonio Spurs. In Sunday’s Game 4, he was clearly moving better while contributing 15 points and 12 assists (against one turnover) while, at times, pushing the ball in a very encouraging development for the Clippers.
He only inched from 23 minutes in Game 3 to 26 in Game 4, but that barometer is misleading because he only played 10 minutes in the second half and three in the fourth quarter because he was not needed as L.A. cruised to a 128-95 win. Paul looked healthy enough to have logged more time, possibly much more, if needed.
Getting blown out would have been help enough, but the Rockets also did their part with the failed game plan of constantly intentionally fouling Clippers center DeAndre Jordan. That tactic slowed Game 4 down so much that Paul rarely had the kind of extended stretches of constant movement that could have severely tested his hamstring. There was little need to take Paul out of the game until there was little need to keep him in.
Said coach Doc Rivers, asked after the win how he thought the All-Star point guard and whether Paul’s minutes would be increased Tuesday as the Clippers took their 3-1 lead to Houston: “I have no idea. Today it was funny because that’s where the Hack-a-Whatever-You-Want-to-Call-it — I still think we should call it the Haq-a-Shaq in honor of him — that’s where the Hack-a-Shaq help is. We were going to take CP out and I turned to (trainer Jasen Powell) and I said, ‘He’s just walking down the floor every time.’ Even though the minutes were ticking, there was no basketball going on so he could stay in, and JP agreed with that. But moving forward, I just don’t know, Again, every step he takes makes the coach nervous.”
Paul averaged 34.8 minutes in the regular season and 39.3 in the first round, big minutes as the Clippers and Spurs played several close games that allowed little rest. The pace in Game 4 — an approach that could continue Tuesday — plus Rivers being able to conserve the minutes plus a day off Monday likely leads to continued health improvement.
“I’m sure they’re not fouling to make sure my hamstring feels good, you know what I mean?” Paul said. “If so, I appreciate it, I guess. I don’t know. I’m feeling better. I think that’s all that matters. We’ve just got to stay hungry for the game on Tuesday.”
Meanwhile, Paul’s backup, Austin Rivers, followed up his starring role with 25 points on 10-of-13 shooting off the bench in Game 3 with another good showing. He had 12 points in 24 minutes while going 5-for-9 overall and 2-for-3 on 3-pointers.