The Thunder had climbed back within 15 points, which on this scary Monday night constituted a tight game, considering the Clippers had led by as many as 24 in the first half.
The Clippers’ little general, Chris Paul, had the ball in the corner, and for once in this defensive-deficient game, was somewhat covered. CP3 shot it anyway. With Russell Westbrook providing some of the little resistance seen all night, Paul fired away, falling backwards. Swish. The verdict was sealed barely two minutes into the second half.
The Clippers routed the Thunder 122-105 in Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals, a game not nearly as close as the final score indicated.
This was the Clippers’ night. More to the point, this was Paul’s night. The quarterback scored touchdowns. The chef ate big. The guy who is known for passing the ball passed it, sure, but he also tossed it into the hoop with amazing accuracy. Paul made his first eight 3-point shots, setting an NBA playoff record, and finished 8-of-9 from deep, to score 32 points and send the Thunder home in a daze.
“That is a lot,” Paul said. “One of those nights, I promise you … this will definitely go down in the history of books for me. Don’t count on it in Game 2.”
Better not have a repeat in Game 2, or this Thunder season is headed for a quick end. Paul is deadly enough when he’s not making like Seth Curry. The Clips are unbeatable when Paul not only distributes the ball (10 assists Monday night) but scores 32 points on 14 shots without so much as a single foul shot.
“I thought he really set the tone for us to start the game,” said Clipper coach Doc Rivers. “I thought he went downhill a lot (with his drives). That’s what we’ve been telling him to do. Quick decisions, move the ball. His being aggressive really set the tone from the start of the game. We needed it.”
Paul often gets a ton of points on drives and fouls. But Monday night, his penetration led to kickouts that led to quick passes that led to Paul getting back the ball wide open for a trey.
Big buddy Blake Griffin detected Paul’s magic night and refrained from his patented rolls to the hoop. Instead, Griffin went looking for screens to free CP3.
“When somebody’s got it going like that, you just want to try to stay out of the way as much as possible, as well as keep that fire going,” Griffin said. “The first quarter was crazy. We were just trying to spring him, get him open.”
The Thunder was hot early. Led 16-10 less than five minutes into the game. Paul had zero shots and zero assists. Then Rivers called timeout, and everything changed.
Paul hit J.J. Redick for an open 3-pointer. Then Paul drilled a 3-pointer to tie the game. A minute later, he hit back-to-back 3-pointers to give LA a 24-20 lead. Two more 3-pointers came in the final two minutes of the quarter. That’s five 3-pointers in the first period. The Clippers had a 39-25 lead, and this game effectively was over.
“We started the game off, they were hitting jump shots,” Kevin Durant said. “We didn’t come out nonchalant. They hit some shots, kind of loosened our defense up … we had good intentions. But they got hot.”
Paul is some kind of player. Heck, he was a great offensive player back in his Oklahoma City days, when he couldn’t shoot. Remember what we figured out a month into that maiden Hornet season in OKC. The kid rookie needs to shoot more.
Now that Paul is an old man (he turned 29 Tuesday), a perennial all-star, it’s still solid advice. The Clippers rode his shooting to an easy victory and now lead the series.
“He hit some tough shots,” said Westbrook. “We can live with that.”
Live with that. Or die by that. We shall see.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at email@example.com. 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.