LOS ANGELES – This time the Los Angeles Clippers didn’t let their late lead slip away.
This time they hit their shots down the stretch and didn’t turn over the ball.
This time Chris Paul showed up when it counted most.
The Clippers don’t always want to have to depend on Paul in the fourth quarter to bail them out and essentially be their closer.
Then again, what we want sometimes isn’t always what we get, and the Clippers more often than not have been content to put the game in the hands of Paul and let the chips fall where they may.
It’s not a bad strategy when you have arguably the game’s best pure point guard on your team, but it’s not always a guarantee for success as the Clippers found out in blowing late leads against the San Antonio Spurs and Golden State Warriors before defeating the Denver Nuggets, 103-95, on Wednesday to prevent their first three-game losing streak of the season.
Paul just didn’t come up big in the fourth quarter, scoring nine points and dishing two assists; he was a force from the second quarter on, scoring a season-high 36 points to go along with nine assists and two steals.
“He was on tonight, I didn’t know he had 36,” Clippers center DeAndre Jordan said. “Chris is always big for us in the fourth quarter, but tonight he was on, scoring, dishing the ball, playing defense, he was all around good for us.”
Sometimes, however, Paul and Blake Griffin can be so good in the fourth quarter that the rest of the team turn into high-paid spectators as was the case in the Clippers’ back-to-back losses heading into Wednesday night. Even in Wednesday's win, Paul and Griffin combined for 41 of the Clippers’ 56 second-half points.
“Looking at the season, the majority of the games we won, Chris hit those big shots,” Clippers forward Ryan Gomes said. “Against Golden State he didn’t make them when we thought he would make them but you have to live with that. At the end of the game it’s going to be him and Blake and the rest of us have to feed off their double teams. At the end of the game he and Blake are going to be the guys with the ball and you have to ride with your stars and live with the shots that they make and the shots that they don’t make.”
That Paul failed to come through in the clutch for his team in back-to-back losses gnawed at Paul heading into Wednesday’s game and he responded with his best game of the season.
“I got to the gym early and got up a lot of shots,” Paul said. “I was just trying to find a rhythm and be aggressive.”
Nuggets coach George Karl didn’t even need to look at the box score to pinpoint how the Clippers won the game.
“The guy that beat us was a guy named Chris Paul,” Karl said. “He has incredible control of the game. There were a lot of young guys out there, he found easy shots, and he made a lot of shots. He was pretty spectacular.”
After the game, Paul hopped on a private jet and flew to Orlando with his family to get a head start on All-Star weekend and go to Disney World on Thursday with his son. The Clippers aren’t exactly where he would like them to be at the break, but the fact that the team isn’t satisfied with simply being atop the Pacific Division and in front of their neighbors down the hall is a sign they're headed in the right direction.
“We had a few games that slipped away but it shows you how much things have changed for this team and this organization,” Paul said. “We expect to win every game we go into. We know we could be better and the only thing we can do about it now is to improve.”