Duo becomes more dynamic
The chemistry between Chris Paul and Blake Griffin showed in a Game 3 comeback
LOS ANGELES -- You can't really say that the Los Angeles Clippers have a winning formula.
A formula suggests a recipe that consists of a precise measurement of elements and ingredients.
What the Clippers concoct in the closing minutes of games can more aptly be described as an exotic potion whipped up by a sorcerer. Call it a witches' brew -- the witch, of course, being Chris Paul.
"That's how we planned it," said Paul with a tinge of sarcasm about the Clippers' 87-86 comeback win over the Memphis Grizzlies. The rally wasn't as historic as the miracle in Game 1, the sequence of events certainly not as improbable, but the victory gave the Clippers a 2-1 lead in the series.
As has been customary for the Clippers this season, they trailed for most of the second half. Down 79-73 with just more than four minutes to go, the Clippers mounted a furious 13-1 run with Paul, per usual, leading the way.
"[Paul] has done it all year and his whole career," Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro said. "When the game is on the line, he is as good as there is in the game."
Paul's understudy, second-year guard Eric Bledsoe, got things started by summoning all his strength to muscle over the Grizzlies' back line for a layup and-1. Bledsoe missed the free throw, but the Clippers' sanitation worker, Reggie Evans, was there for the putback to shave the Memphis lead down to two.
Bledsoe also provided badly needed ball pressure down the stretch on Grizzlies point guard Mike Conley, and dished out a timely assist to Randy Foye for a 3-pointer that tied the game at 80-80 with just more than three minutes remaining.
That's when Paul took over. In a span of 40 seconds, Paul turned down an Evans pick to find daylight for a 16-footer on the right edge of the lane. On Memphis' next possession, Paul -- caught defending Marc Gasol in a mismatch -- got his hands on the ball, resulting in a Grizzlies turnover.
Then came the topper, the kind of play Clippers fans imagined when Paul and Griffin were paired at the outset of the season. Guarded by O.J. Mayo, Paul got a jump start and went left -- not his preferred direction -- squirted into the lane, then delivered an impossible bounce pass between Memphis' pair of collapsing big men, Gasol and Zach Randolph. On the other side of that pass was Blake Griffin, who cut baseline from the left side.
"I just walked around until he passed it," Griffin said to a chorus of laughter when asked to describe what transpired on the play. "I'm going to let [Paul] answer that."
"I got into the lane, saw the two guys looking at me and I saw Blake -- he made the 'Blake Face,'" Paul said.
At that point, Paul asked his young son, Chris Jr., to show the media gathering the aforementioned Blake Face -- that familiar combination of anticipation and apoplexy well-known to NBA fans the world over.
Cue the laugh track.
"Once I got into the lane, I saw him about to take off -- I think he might've wanted the lob," Paul said. "All I saw was the baseline. Once the ball gets into his hands that close to the rim, there's not too much anyone can do about it."
Well behind the defense, Griffin flushed it home, giving the Clippers an 84-80 lead with 1:23 remaining in the game. The Clippers didn't make it easy on themselves in the final minute with a bevy of missed free throws -- and Rudy Gay hit a couple of 3-pointers to keep the Grizzlies very much alive -- but Los Angeles got the stop it needed to close out the game. Paul and Griffin led the way with 24 and 17 points, respectively.
The playoffs provide NBA talent the opportunity to craft personas both on and off the court. Every postseason game is viewed by millions of fans, and the best and the brightest are invited into the postgame interview room to project their identities -- often as tandems. We saw it last season when LeBron James and Dwyane Wade sat alongside each other at the podium, and as Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook became a regular fixture (along with Durant's trademark knapsack) at the microphone.
Paul and Griffin have shared the podium only twice in victory so far this season, but an interpersonal chemistry is starting to reveal itself. In street clothes after a game, Paul is earnest and still intense. Griffin has shed his Blake Face in favor of the irony and deadpan we've seen in his commercials and comedy sketches.
Watching the duo side by side, the blue NBA playoffs background draped behind them, Paul and Griffin are starting to appear like teammates. It's a dynamic that's been difficult to achieve in a frenzied, abbreviated season, particularly with Paul landing on the Clippers' doorstep just days before the season.
There's still work to be done on the court as the two refine their timing and choreography, but that decisive play in the fourth quarter offered a glimpse into what could be the most devastating pick-and-roll combination on the planet.
Paul understands this, appreciates that he's as responsible as anyone for coaching Griffin up. Griffin is still only 23 years old, finishing his second season in the league. For all of Griffin's physical gifts, Paul may be his strongest asset going forward.
"We're going to keep giving [Griffin] the ball," Paul said. "Every night, we're going to feed our horse right there. And we're going to keep feeding him."
As Paul made that pledge, Griffin looked down humbly.
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