He came as the final and most important piece of an All-NBA troika. The Clippers already employed DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin, but Chris Paul was the ringleader who brought it all together and established an expectation that these perennial do-nothings, upstarts to say the least, could compete in the revamped Western Conference.
Six years later, with the Clippers on the verge of playoff elimination and that core perhaps disbanding with no hardware to show for how far they come, Paul continues to prove himself to be the biggest of the Clippers’ big three.
“Whenever we’ve asked Chris to step up and take over a basketball game,” Jordan said, “he’s been able to do that.”
On Friday, that meant scoring a team-high 29 points to carry the Clippers to a 98-93 Game 6 win in Utah, setting the stage for a dramatic do-or-die showdown Sunday afternoon at Staples Center. Coach Doc Rivers said Paul “willed” the latest victory for the Clippers.
Since Paul was traded to L.A., the Clippers are 3-1 in Game 7 appearances, with the lone loss coming in their infamous collapse against Houston in the second round of the 2015 postseason. They are 3-3 in franchise history.
J.J. Redick said Game 7 is always “very emotional.” He has played in four of them in his career, three with the Clippers.
The playoffs, he said, “amplify that emotion” that is inherent to professional basketball.
“Especially when it’s an elimination game and your season is on the brink of being done,” he said. “So when both teams are in an elimination game it can be very emotional.”
If the Clippers are going to to beat the Jazz in this matchup of the No. 4 and No. 5 seeds – the only first-round series to require seven games – chances are it will come down to Paul in the fourth quarter, as each of the Clippers’ three wins in the playoffs have.
“That’s what we practice for,” Paul said. “That’s what you’re in the gym for during the summer when you’re working out and you’re training, the guys are leaning on you and counting on you.”
While the Jazz has needed different players to have big performances from one night to the next, for the Clippers it has been Paul, with scattered contributions from role players.
In Game 3 in Salt Lake City, after Griffin went down, Paul scored nine straight points for the Clippers amid a 15-0 run in the fourth quarter to ensure a win and 2-1 series lead.
The series has had plenty of dramatic swings, but Paul has not been among them. The point guard has been remarkably consistent, scoring between 21 and 34 points in each of the six games, averaging 27.3 per game – ninth among all players in the postseason.
Only Russell Westbrook and John Wall have averaged more than Paul’s 10 assists in the playoffs, and both have committed far more turnovers.
“He’s so unselfish,” Jordan said. “He wants to get other guys going, but sometimes we need him to get going (himself). He’s been able to do that and he’s…