LOS ANGELES (AP) — One day after Chris Paul's 27th birthday, the All-Star point guard and his Los Angeles Clippers showed they're growing up splendidly together.
Sure, it's not happening without growing pains during a brutal series with the Memphis Grizzlies. After surviving overtime in their toughest test yet, Paul and his teammates are on the verge of an achievement with better rewards than candles and cake.
Paul scored eight of his 27 points in a dynamic overtime performance, and the Clippers moved to the verge of their second playoff series victory in 36 years with a 101-97 win over Memphis on Monday night, taking a 3-1 series lead.
The Clippers blew a 10-point lead late in regulation before finishing without Blake Griffin, who fouled out midway through overtime. It could have been another disaster for a franchise with more than its share, but Paul wouldn't allow it.
"It's fun, it's exciting," said Paul, who atoned for his inability to score at the regulation buzzer.
"The worst mistake I probably made in the game was not getting the shot at the end of regulation," he added. "If I was at home watching it on TV, I'd be talking so bad about me. But you've got to get through it. The (best) thing about it is that I have teammates that have confidence in me. Everything that we do is a team win."
Maybe so, but the Clippers were ever so grateful to rely on their All-Star point guard.
Griffin had 30 points and seven assists before fouling out for the Clippers, who blew an 84-74 lead over the final 4½ minutes before Paul took charge in extra time. He played with the same intensity he showed late in regulation, heedlessly flinging himself over the front row of chairs in an attempt to save a loose ball.
"He's a great player, and that's what great players do," Memphis coach Lionel Hollins said.
Game 5 is Wednesday night in Memphis, with Game 6 back at Staples Center on Friday if the Clippers can't close.
After Paul hit consecutive jumpers to put the Clippers ahead 99-93 with 44 seconds left, Mike Conley's layup with 8.1 seconds left trimmed the Clippers' lead back to two points. But after Mo Williams hit two free throws with 7.2 seconds left and Rudy Gay missed a meaningless 3-pointer, Griffin and Paul embraced while another frenzied sellout crowd of long-suffering Clippers fans roared.
"Chris is always intense," Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro said. "That's what makes him special. Chris is so good, not only at making plays for himself, but making the right play. That's what makes him a star."
Conley scored a career playoff-high 25 points and Gay had 23 on 8-of-25 shooting for the Grizzlies, who couldn't match Paul's late-game poise in another thrilling chapter of a highly entertaining series with four games decided by a total of 15 points.
"It's good TV, man, get the ratings up," Paul said. "We don't want any blowouts. There's a reason we finished 4-5 (in the Western Conference standings) with one game between us. We have a lot of competitive guys that don't give up in this series. We have two teams that are going to fight until the end."
In their breakthrough season since pairing Paul with Griffin, the Clippers need one more victory to win their second playoff series since the erstwhile Buffalo Braves moved to California. Los Angeles beat Denver in the first round in 2006, but hadn't been back to the postseason until this spring.
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