LOS ANGELES -- San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich has seen Chris Paul play enough times over his seven-year NBA career to feel comfortable declaring that Paul hasn't been himself this series.
Speaking following the Spurs' 96-86 win over Paul and the Clippers on Saturday at the Staples Center, Paul's third straight poor performance of the series, Popovich indicated his team has been lucky to go against Paul at less than his best.
“I don’t know what Chris will say, but I don’t think he’s 100 percent Chris Paul,” Popovich said. “I’m looking at him, and I know that kid. I know how he can play, and he’s not 100 percent.”
Popovich isn't the only one who thinks that. Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro has admitted that both Paul and forward Blake Griffin are battling injuries accumulated in the first-round series against Memphis, although he has steadfastly refused to speculate on the severity of either player's ailments.
For his part, Paul is trying to keep his strained right hip flexor at a low profile. Told of Popovich's comments in the locker room afterward, Paul interrupted an inquiring reporter and denied anything of the sort.
"I'm playing," he said. "I'm good. I'm good. I'm just not playing well, I gotta play better."
The first part of that is obviously true, and most would say the third part is as well. But the second is debatable. If he's indeed feeling "good," then how can you explain his three-game averages of just nine points and five-plus turnovers this series?
You can't, really. Outside of maybe San Antonio's overall dominance, Paul's struggles have been the single biggest reason why the Clippers have lost three straight to the Spurs in convincing fashion.
It's hard to win a playoff series against a top-seeded team when your top player is playing like a below-average one.