What more can I say about Chris Paul and his prepotency in crunch time? It’s gotten to the point where, in critical and/or late-game situations, he’s simply elevated himself to a level that the rest of the league isn’t playing on. Actually, to say he’s elevated himself to such a level makes it seem as if this is all new for him, so I don’t think I want to word it like that. CP3 was a prime-time performer with the Hornets, but this season it almost seems as though he’s discovered perfection, save for a two-game stretch where he missed a key free throw and left his man wide open for a game-winning three.
We forgive you, Chris.
Monday night’s 101-97 Clipper victory was as nearly as crucial as an elimination game, giving the Clipps a two-game cushion headed back to Memphis. Had Chris Paul and friends lost game four they would’ve given homecourt back to the Grizzlies and faced a pivotal game five in the opposition’s house. Instead, all they have to do is win one of the next three games, and they’ll get an opportunity to finish the series at Staples if they can’t get it done at the Fed Ex Forum.
As usual, Chris Paul was the catalyst in the latter stages of LA’s most recent nail-biter. I’ll admit that he’d been a little quiet as the Grizzlies flipped the script and stormed back from 10 down in the closing minutes of the fourth quarter, but CP3 was sure to take care of business in overtime.
Paul was responsible for four of the five buckets LA scored in OT. He was first to scratch, putting the Clippers up 89-87. Up 90-89 with 3:46 to go, he connected on a mid-range jump shot. He missed a similar look on the following possession, but Blake Griffin, who finally played an excellent game in his own right, was there to collect the garbage stick it in the can. Up just two after consecutive Memphis scores, Paul went for the jugular. Again he pulled up for a mid-range jump shot, and again he found the bottom of the net.
Now leading by four with 45 seconds to go, Paul came off of a high screen from Reggie Evans. Marc Gasol was forced to step up around the free-throw line. If you’ve watched Chris Paul play before then you know exactly what happened here. Paul shook, side stepped to his right, and canned the short shot as the helpless big man stumbled backwards.
At this point the Clippers led by six, and it would become a free-throw shooting contest. Clipper fans thanked the basketball gods as Mo Williams, not Eric Bledsoe, toed the line for the game’s final tosses. Game, blouses.
So, how exactly does Chris Paul continue to do this? What makes him so deadly when the game hangs in the balance? How has he led a Clipper team that so often seems to lack continuity to more comeback victories than any other in the NBA?
Well, I feel that he’s able to do it because…
…he can get anywhere he wants any time he wants.
Pardon this tired cliche, but Chris Paul has the ball on a string. Never, ever have I seen Chris Paul struggle to access any area of the floor. To have a player who can enter the paint at will while maintaining complete control of his body and the ball is a huge offensive advantage, especially down the stretch as defense tends to get tighter and offense can get a little helter skelter. As great a dribbler as he is, it isn’t ball handling ability alone that allows Paul to toy with defenses the way he so often does. Paul is very quick–he can always get a step on his defender–and he’s strong, too. His strength is key when he gets into the paint. Have you ever noticed his tendency to hold a man on his back after he turns the corner? It’s a combination of the quickness to beat the defender and the strength to maintain position that allows him to do that. Once he’s navigated through the traffic and established his desired position, the defense is at his mercy.
…he can score from any range.
Chris Paul is a threat to score the second he crosses half court. Okay, maybe that’s a stretch, but seriously, he’ll pull up for three, take you all the way to the rack, or stick the shot from any place in between. He’s a career 36% shooter from three-point range, so giving him space on the perimeter isn’t an option. His shooting percentage ranks fourth amongst point guards (minimum 3 attempts per game) from 16-23 feet, so he can’t be left free there, either. Oh, and once he’s within nine feet he becomes the league’s finest finisher at his position. You’ve actually managed to keep him from finding his own shot? At that point you’ve probably been forced to leave at least one of his teammates unguarded, and you best believe the open man will be spotted.
…he exploits switches.
Some teams will begin to switch all pick and rolls late in close games. Some teams do it all the time. Do it against Chris Paul? The scorekeeper may was well put two points on the board. Never have I seen a guard exploit bigs like Chris Paul. What he likes to do is come off the screen, take a dribble or two towards the paint, side step to his right, and sink the uncontested shot. Most right-handed players struggle to hit the jumper if they aren’t moving left, but not Chris Paul.
…he will make the right decision.
Every once in a while, Chris Paul will miss a key shot. His teammates will miss their share as well. However, when Chris Paul takes an important shot you’ll almost never complain that it was a bad one. When he elects to pass up the big shot he almost always creates a solid look for a teammate. In crunch time, Chris Paul becomes two or three times as aggressive as he is in the early going, yet he does so without forcing any particular action. He’s a master of taking what he’s given, of capitalizing on opportunities. Once again, it’s that incredible control he has… not only of his body and the ball, but of his entire team, it seems. Paul is such a brilliant basketball player… it’s almost as if he’s playing chess. His teammates are individual pieces, but he’s the mastermind behind the entire attack; the one who moves them.
…he has a will and believes that there’s a way.
Not only is Chris Paul one of the most determined competitors in the NBA, but he simply never believes he’s going to lose a game. Down four with .3 seconds on the clock? His thought process would be something like how am I going to tip this ball into the basket from behind the three-point line while being fouled? It’s no coincidence that Paul recently became the man behind the biggest comeback in playoff history. Vinny Del Negro was going to pull the plug, but Paul pleaded that he be put back into the game. It’s always been like that with Chris Paul. He lives for the biggest moments. He’s more than prepared to watch his team sink or swim on the play he makes.
What you’ve just read sums up the reasoning behind my choice to pick the Clippers over the Grizzlies in seven games. The two teams are very evenly matched, but only one has Chris Paul.