LOS ANGELES -- Chris Paul can often be heard screaming, "It's winning time!" during the fourth quarter of close games.
It's a phrase his teammates have come to expect to hear after every made shot and defensive stop at the end of games to remind them of the moment at hand.
More often than not, "winning time" means just that for the Los Angeles Clippers when they find themselves in a tight game with Paul at the helm, especially at home. In fact, the Clippers were 32-0 this season at Staples Center when leading at any point during the fourth quarter.
That record is now 32-1 after the Clippers lost Game 1 of their first-round series against the Golden State Warriors 109-105 on Saturday.
It was an odd game marred by 51 fouls and 60 free throws, but nothing was more unusual than the final two minutes of the game and the Clippers' inability to close with Paul on the court.
The Clippers had come back from an 11-point deficit in the fourth quarter to tie the score on Paul's 3-pointer and later took a 103-102 lead on a Darren Collison free throw. It looked as if the Clippers were on the verge of a comeback win when Paul raced down the court for what looked like a fast-break layup that was blocked by Harrison Barnes, who connected on a 3-pointer on the other end with 1:42 left.
That would be just the beginning of a litany of late-game errors for the Clippers.
Just 20 seconds later -- and with the Clippers down two -- Paul dribbled the ball out of bounds as he was getting double-teamed by Steve Blake and Draymond Green. With the Clippers down three, Paul then missed two free throws with 13.9 seconds left before missing the final 3-pointer of the game.
It was the kind of ending Paul was still trying to come to grips with afterward as he looked down at the final box score, searching for something more revealing than what the numbers on the paper offered.
"I've got to take care of the ball," Paul said. "It was just tough. I think the biggest play probably -- other than me missing those free throws -- was that 3-on-1. I want to look at that again, because I probably should've given the ball up to J.J. or Darren, who were running with me. I try to make the right decision in those situations. Unfortunately, I didn't, and I missed a layup. Well, whatever happened, and then they came down. We could've gone up three, but instead, Harrison Barnes makes a shot, and they go up two."
The ending was uncharacteristic for Paul, who scored 28 points -- 10 in the final period alone -- and had eight assists and seven rebounds. He was the biggest reason the Clippers had even rallied from an 11-point deficit to take the lead in the final two minutes, but his inability to close the game, highlighted by his late-game errors, provided a result that hasn't been uncharacteristic of Paul's teams in the playoffs.
He is arguably the best point guard in basketball and one of the top five players in the league, but Paul is now 16-25 in the postseason and hasn't made it past the second round in his career or won a game outside of the first round since 2008.
Paul, 28, is still shaping his legacy, but the potential for that legacy can never be fulfilled without a title, which is a big reason coach Doc Rivers was pried away from the Boston Celtics after last season. Rivers brought a championship ring and a championship pedigree as a coach to the Clippers, which is something Paul never had before.
"Eventually," Rivers said when asked if Paul had to win in the postseason for his legacy. "I hope now. Let's do it both ways. Let's say he wins in the Finals. He's got a legacy. Let's say he doesn’t this year but does it next year. He has a legacy. The legacy should be done when you're finished with your career and then you have legacy. He'll have one, and it will be a great one."
Paul's legacy will not be defined by a first-round game or series. He recalls beating the Los Angeles Lakers at Staples Center in Game 1 of their first-round series in 2011 as a member of the New Orleans Hornets before losing in six games. He also remembers winning the first two games of last season's first-round series against the Memphis Grizzlies before losing in six games. His legacy will be shaped over the next two months if he is able to advance to his first conference finals and NBA Finals. But first, he has to once again get past the first round.
"We could have won this game," Paul said. "It would have been nice, but we still would have said there are a lot of things we need to better. Luckily, this isn't football. It's not any given Saturday or Sunday. You got to do it four times, so we'll just move on."