In his debut season with the Los Angeles Clippers last year, Chris Paul led the NBA in scoring in “clutch minutes,” which are categorized as the last five minutes of regulation or overtime with neither team leading by more than five points.
On Wednesday night against the Thunder at Chesapeake Energy Arena, Paul perhaps had never been less clutch, shooting 2 for 14 from the field and missing a potential game-winning 14-footer at the end of regulation.
Paul finished with one of his worst statistical lines in his eight seasons as one of the league's premier point guards. Normally a double-double machine, Paul finished with a single-single of nine points and nine assists to go along with five rebounds, four steals and four turnovers.
Afterward, Paul put his team's 117-111 overtime loss to OKC squarely on his shoulders.
“I was just terrible tonight,” Paul said. “For us to lose in overtime and I play like that? There aren't going to be too many nights like that.”
Reminded of all the game he has won for the Clippers, Paul responded: “That's bogus. I can't do that (play poorly). I shouldn't do that. I took a few bad shots. It was the timing of everything. I missed at the wrong times. It was bad, a bad game on my part. To be that close ... we still should have won.”
The Clippers (8-3) outscored the Thunder 53-43 to force overtime, where OKC (9-3) pulled away for the victory at the free-throw line, converting 7 of 8 at the line in the extra five minutes compared to 1 for 1 for LA.
While Paul sputtered, plenty of teammates stepped up, primarily former Oklahoma standout Blake Griffin (23 points, six rebounds, three steals), sixth man Jamal Crawford (20 points) and forward Matt Barnes (19 points, nine rebounds, four steals), who replaced injured starter Caron Butler (shoulder strain).
“Everybody played well,” Paul said. “All I had to do was play decent. That's defensively and offensively. This one hurts. We should have won.”
When told Paul was taking the blame, Griffin shook his head and said: “It's not on him. It's on all of us. We've got to help him out. He's going to say that, but his defense out there, his leadership out there. It goes way beyond just the shots or the points, or whatever it is.
“We played poorly. We didn't play well at all. Our rotation was a little messed up. We didn't play well at all and we all know that. We'll be ready next time. We have a tough squad, a squad that never gives up and that's promising. Like I said, next time we'll be ready. I thought our effort down the stretch was great. It wasn't because of lack of effort.”
Three-time scoring champ Kevin Durant, like Paul, has plenty of “clutch minute” points and also knows the feeling of coming up short.
“It's frustrating because you put so much time into it, you put your heart into it,” Durant said. “You go out there and play hard and if it doesn't come out the way you want it to, it's frustrating.
“CP is an unbelievable leader. Wins and losses, he just moves on. You can tell how he plays. I'm the same way. You can learn a lot from a guy like him, but I'm glad we came out on top.”
The loss snapped the Clippers' six-game winning streak. They play at Brooklyn on Friday and at Atlanta on Saturday to close out a four-game road trip.