OKLAHOMA CITY -- Chris Paul was the first player at Chesapeake Energy Solutions Arena on Monday.
Before the first team bus pulled into the arena, Paul had gotten into a cab and come over on his own almost four hours before the start of the game to shoot with Los Angeles Clippers assistant coach Dave Severns.
Whenever Paul feels the need to shoot before or after a game, he will tell Severns and the two will go through a shooting drill that takes Paul around the court with Severns feeding him the ball.
Paul felt the need to come over early on Monday after feeling sluggish during the morning shootaround and falling asleep during the film session on Sunday.
“Me and Blake talked about it this morning at shootaround,” Paul said. “Obviously, we were still a little tight from traveling and we said at 8:30 we better be ready to go, so I came over here early before the game and got a lot of shots up.”
By the time Paul walked off the court in the afternoon, his injured right hamstring and right thumb were behind him. He felt better than he had since the postseason began and told his teammates that he would look to be more aggressive early in the game.
None of them could have foreseen how aggressive he would be.
In one of the biggest games of his career, Paul had the best shooting night of his career. He finished with 32 points on 12-of-14 from the field and 8-of-9 from beyond the 3-point line. Paul made his first eight 3-point attempts and fell one shy of the single-game playoff record of nine 3s.
Never before had Paul made more than five 3-pointers in a game (a span of 665 regular season and postseason games). He hit six before halftime and eight before the end of the third quarter.
It didn’t matter who the Oklahoma City Thunder threw at him, Paul made a pull-up jumper against eight different Thunder defenders on the night.
Not only did Paul lead the Clippers to a 122-105 blowout of the Thunder in Game 1 of their Western Conference semifinal series, he became the first player with at least 30 points and 10 assists on 75 percent shooting in a playoff game since Michael Jordan in 1991.
Paul’s teammates often tell him to be aggressive, but more often than not his comfort zone is in facilitating for his teammates and letting the game come to him. On Monday, however, he listened to his teammates, especially Blake Griffin, who looked at him early in the first quarter and repeatedly told him, “Be aggressive. Be aggressive.”
“I try to take what’s given to me and early, and I think the shot clock might have been running down on one of the first shots that I shot and I made it and I just kept trying to be aggressive,” Paul said. “I didn’t want to force it or anything like that. I’m one of those people that think when you’re hot and you take a bad shot, it’s gone. I just tried to be aggressive.”
Paul has been getting around-the-clock treatment from the Clippers training staff on his injured hamstring and thumb. Doc Rivers hinted before the series started that most people outside the Clippers’ locker room have no idea what Paul had to go through to play in the previous series against the Golden State Warriors.
“That’s just toughness,” Rivers said after Game 1 in Oklahoma City. “I thought he really set the tone for us at the start of the game. I just thought he went downhill a lot with the drives and that’s what we have been trying to tell him to do. Quick decisions and move the ball. I thought his being aggressive at the start of the game really set the tone throughout the game.”
Paul often jokes he’s not much of a 3-point shooter. But it has become part of his arsenal recently. After going 51-for-156 from 3-point range in his first 53 games of the season, Paul is now 52-of-102 in his past 17 games.
“That’s what I do,” Paul said when asked about his 3-point shooting. “That’s a lie. I don’t know. It was just one of those nights. I promise you it has to be a career high. This one will definitely go down in the record books for me. Don’t count on it for Game 2, I can tell you that.”
Paul was 10-for-12 for 28 points on pull-up jump shots Monday, including 8-of-9 from 3. And the only thing Paul’s older brother, C.J., was interested in talking about postgame were those two misses and Paul’s two turnovers.
“That’s the way it’s always been,” Paul said. “That’s the way it is.”
Paul is a perfectionist who usually only looks at the number of mistakes he made in a game. His eyes will almost always dart to the turnovers column; if there is a number greater than zero for him, that’s what he will focus on.
But Paul has taken a big-picture approach to this season and this playoff run. He read the book "The Way of the Champion," by Jerry Lynch, before the start of the postseason and talked about the need to take advantage of being on a championship team, not knowing how many opportunities he will have during his career.
“I’ve never been past the second round, and this is my ninth season. I remember the team I was on in 2008, when we lost Game 7 to the Spurs, and you feel like you’re always going to be back there. And that’s not the case,” Paul said. “The team here, I think is a special team. Not only do we have a good team, but also it’s fun to be around each other.”
Rivers doesn’t think this is a make-or-break postseason for Paul, but that he’s approaching it like it is certainly doesn’t hurt.
“I think Chris Paul is going to be in a lot of second-round series trying to get to the third round, and this is not going to be the last one,” Rivers said. “He has the urgency like this is going to be the last one, and I think that’s really important for the entire team that this is going to be the last one. And I think that’s really important for our entire team to have that urgency. You can’t assume anything in our league.”
Information from ESPN Stats & Information was used in this story.