It’s bad, Chris Paul kept saying. It’s bad.
Bad. Bad. Bad.
CP3 said 359 words in his post-game press conference. Seven of them were “bad.” And he was talking about himself.
The little guy with the big shoulders, Oklahoma City’s first NBA hero and now its mortal enemy, sat despondent in the bowels of Chesapeake Arena on Tuesday night, taking responsibility for his Clippers’ devastating defeat.
You don’t have to be tall to walk tall. And CP3, the maestro who has made the Clippers NBA relevant, was valiant in taking blame. The Clippers blew a 13-point lead in the final four minutes. A seven-point lead in the final 45 seconds. They lost 105-104 to the Thunder and now trail three games to two in a best-of-7 Western Conference semifinal that is becoming gladiatorial in blood and drama.
And Paul pled guilty to the crime. The NBA’s best point guard, a conductor who’s always striking the right notes, in the final 20 seconds committed two turnovers and an even bigger blunder, fouling Russell Westbrook on a 3-point shot with the Thunder down two.
“Everything happened there on the end is on me,” Paul said. “Probably the toughest thing I’ve been through basketball-wise.”
The weight of expectations rides heavy on Paul. Gone is the carefree 20-year-old kid who charmed us in OKC his NBA rookie year and ours, 2005-06, when the Hornets found a haven from Hurricane Katrina. Now Paul is a 29-year-old man, president of the NBA Players Association and a veteran of nine NBA seasons and winner of but two playoff series in his entire career.
We talk a lot about the clock ticking on Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. But CP3’s biological clock is on overdrive. Paul has been a fierce competitor. A little big man. An Allen Iverson heart, only with a better head. Whether charging into the lane to score over giants or physically man up with much bigger foes, Paul long ago proved his superstar mettle. His Game 4 defense on the foot-taller Durant was the stuff of legend. But now Paul has followed that with a game that will live in infamy should the Thunder win the series.
Paul recited his misdeeds. Allowing Westbrook to knock the ball free when Paul thought his adversary was going to foul. Then fouling Westbrook. Finally, a turnover just before the buzzer, when the Clippers had a chance to win.
“Assuming they’re going to foul is the dumbest play probably I’d ever made, then to put it in the official’s hands to call a foul on the 3, it’s just bad basketball,” Paul said. “We lost. It’s on me. We have a chance to win, last play I don’t even get a shot up and that’s just dumb. Supposed to be the leader of the team, that can’t happen.”
Of course, Paul is the reason the Clippers are even in the Western Conference semifinals. The reason the Clippers have carved out a niche in LA, which always has been LakerLand. The reason the Clippers have any NBA relevancy at all.
Heck, Paul is the reason America knows the Clippers have a kook for an owner. Donald Sterling is doing nothing he hasn’t always done. It’s just that now he owns a team quarterbacked by Chris Paul, so it’s a franchise that matters and people pay attention.
It’s a team capable of winning the NBA title. Except the Clippers are down 3-2 to the Thunder, and the despondent little guy has to get over the self-loathing and come out ready for Game 6 Thursday night at Staples Center, with swords drawn and shields raised. If not, the series will end without returning to Oklahoma City.
“Got to keep playing, but this one’s bad,” Paul said. “It’s bad. To work that hard and to have the game and to give it away, I kind of pride myself on taking care of the ball and managing games toward the end. None of the guys could have did anything about it, it was just me.”
Love the attitude. Contrast that with Clipper coach Doc Rivers, who blamed the loss on officiating. Rivers was livid during the final fateful seconds and in the post-game, renouncing the officiating crew’s replay review ruling that allowed the Thunder to keep the ball with 11 seconds left. I don’t know what Rivers thought he saw. Sure, the ball looked like it could have gone off Reggie Jackson’s hand. But conclusive evidence? That wasn’t on the replays I saw on TNT or the OKC video board.
Replay is not a recount. Replay is an appeals court. If something egregious occurred, fix it. Otherwise, leave it alone.
Paul seemed to sense that. Paul seemed to know that the Clippers were done in by their own play down the stretch, just as the Thunder was done in by its own spotty performance as the Clips staged a mighty comeback themselves.
Rivers calmed down enough later to admit the Clippers were their own worst enemy.
“That’s a tough turnover for Chris,” Rivers said. “Obviously, he’s better than that and he doesn’t really make turnovers like that. When you think about how we lost the game, we turn over, we foul the shooter, we’re supposed to foul Durant before he gets the 3 off because we have a foul to give, then we get a bad call. There’s a lot of errors — most of them by us…
“We’ve been regrouping all year, so we’ll be ready to play when we get to LA. This one’s going to hurt. I’m sure guys are feeling bad. We took a lot of bad shots down the stretch, we tried to run the clock out instead of keep playing basketball. None of this would have happened if we had have taken care of business, but we didn’t.”
The Clippers didn’t. Not any great surprise.
Chris Paul didn’t. Bad surprise. Bad, bad, bad.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.