OKLAHOMA CITY -- While Chris Paul was getting treatment in the trainer's room for over an hour after the Los Angeles Clippers' 120-108 win over the Oklahoma City Thunder on Wednesday, a message was waiting for him above his locker.
It was a handwritten note on a piece of tape which read, "CP MVP of the game :)"
On a night when Paul -- who was dealing with a bruised right knee and, by the end of the game, a sprained right ankle -- was going up against one of the hottest players in the league and MVP candidate Russell Westbrook, the Clippers' point guard showed why he deserves to be part of the MVP conversation as well.
He outshined Westbrook on his home floor in a critical game for the Thunder, scoring a game-high 33 points to go along with nine assists while holding Westbrook, who was averaging 40 points over his past five games, to 24 and forcing him into a season-high 10 turnovers. It was the kind of game an MVP candidate would use to push his campaign this time of year -- but no such campaign exists for Paul. In fact, the taped message above his locker might have been the first MVP sign he has seen, home or away, this season, which is just fine with him.
"It don't matter," Paul said of being shut out from the MVP conversation. "I just need to win a championship. You can have whatever else. I don't care. You can have the assists and steals titles, you can have all that. I just need to win a championship."
Of course, Paul didn't always feel that way. He still shakes his head when thinking about the MVP race in 2008, which came down to him and Kobe Bryant, who eventually won. Paul was 22 at the time and one win away from taking New Orleans to the Western Conference finals. He thought it was just the beginning of many MVP battles and championship runs, but the truth is Paul has not been that close to winning the MVP or a title since.
As he gets ready to turn 30 in May, Paul said the individual awards and accolades he used to covet don't mean anything to him anymore.
"All I think going into a game now is what I'm going to do defensively," Paul told ESPN.com. "I wasn't like that when I first got into the league. I know what I was like when I was in my first and second years in the league. When we played against Phoenix I wanted to win the game, but I also wanted to go at Steve Nash. He was the guy so I needed to see what I had against him."
Paul might say he doesn't care about the individual matchups as much as he used to, but the competitor in him was privately seething when there actually was a debate about whether he should be an All-Star this season. It's no accident that over the past week he has put up 36 points and 12 assists against Damian Lillard, 14 points and 11 assists against Stephen Curry and 33 points and nine assists against Westbrook.
Just as important, however, Paul helped hold Lillard to five points (1-for-13 from the field) and four assists (although he did have a career-high 18 rebounds), Curry to 12 and four and Westbrook to 24 and seven.
"It's defense," Paul said. "Shots, you're going to make them some night and some nights you're not, but I always try to accept the challenge defensively because all those guys are scoring guards and they really carry their team so that's what I try to do to put an imprint on the game defensively."
J.J. Redick has known Paul since they were rivals in college and laughs at the notion that Paul doesn't still get up for playing against one of the other elite point guards in the league.
"Any time he has an individual matchup, he always wants to hone in," Redick said. "There's no question. He's competitive; he wants to win that individual matchup ... It's fun getting to play with him. Twenty or 30 years from now, I'll tell people I played with one of the greatest point guards in the world ever."
What makes Paul one of the best is the fact that defense is even part of the equation with him. While he and Westbrook take on the challenge of locking down their counterparts on a nightly basis, many others leave that assignment up to their teammates to handle while they conserve energy to collect highlight plays on the other end of the court.
"Chris is the one guy -- Russ is the same way -- that they're very competitive and he always wants to guard the best and play the best," Clippers teammate Matt Barnes said. "Some of these other point guards hide from matchups, but those two guys out there tonight, I take my hat off to them. Chris is arguably the best all-around point guard in the game. He can score when he needs to score, he can obviously pass the ball, he plays defense and he gets in there and gets steals and rebounds for us. He's tough."
Not only have the Clippers won nine of their past 13 games without Blake Griffin, they've also collected signature wins over Dallas, Houston, San Antonio, Memphis, Chicago and Oklahoma City. During that stretch, Paul has led the NBA in creating 48.9 percent of the Clippers' points either by scoring or assisting on a score. The Clippers also score a team-high 113.8 points per 100 possessions when Paul is on the floor, compared to a team-low 97.2 points per 100 possessions when he is on the bench.
He is the most valuable player on one of the best teams in the league, but you'll likely be hard-pressed to find him on many MVP ballots at the end of the season.
"It's like Michael [Jordan] and LeBron [James]. I'm always amazed, I don't know if I've heard him in MVP [discussions]," Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. "I think that's a joke every year, but we get tired of talking about those guys. It happens more at home. What happens is that the city the star plays in, you get used to it, so it's not that big of a deal to you anymore. But I think Chris has had an amazing year. He's a heck of an offensive player, but I think Chris defensively doesn't get half the credit. He is as good as there is in the league at that position guarding the ball."