LOS ANGELES – There are going to be nights when Chris Paul simply wills the Clippers to win, when he takes over a game and pushes his teammates in one direction, almost relentlessly.
He is not one to lord over his statistical accomplishments, but on a night when the Clippers put their opening-night disaster behind them, Paul showed them how good they can be.
Clippers coach Doc Rivers called Paul’s performance “awesome,” but that only began to describe it. In a 126-115 win over the Golden State Warriors at Staples Center on Thursday night, Paul was virtually unstoppable: 42 points — one off his career high — 15 assists, six steals and three perfect alley-oop passes to Blake Griffin that were converted into third-quarter dunks.
And yet, at the end of the night, Paul was self-critical.
“I just sat down and looked at the stat sheet,” he said. “I got six turnovers. That’s ridiculous.”
He’s a perfectionist, too, a player who is less concerned with his numbers than he is with finding the optimum performance. The Clippers weren’t quite perfect, but they did wash away their first-night 13-point loss to the Lakers on Tuesday.
“I’m just happy we won,” Paul said. Then, speaking of his statistical line, he added, “All that other stuff means nothing unless you win the game.”
The Clippers did, pulling away from a gritty Warriors team that crushed the Lakers one night earlier and offering a glimpse of just how good they can be.
“It’s nice,” Rivers said of the win, “but if it didn’t happen, we have another one tomorrow. Like I’ve said before, we have a long way to go. I really believe we’re going to be so much better later. And the fact we beat a good team means more than just a win.”
The Warriors aren’t just a good team, they’re a team that will likely be the Clippers’ primary rival in the NBA’s Pacific Division. They reached the Western Conference semifinals last season, and they have arguably the best-shooting backcourt in the league in Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson.
Curry almost brought the Warriors back by himself, totaling 38 points and nine assists and converting 9 of 14 three-point attempts. But Thompson, who had 38 points against the Lakers, was held to 10 points on 3-of-7 shooting.
Last season, the Warriors won three of four meetings against the Clippers, and there is clearly a measure of animosity between them. In the second quarter, for example, Clippers center DeAndre Jordan and Warriors center Andrew Bogut exchanged shoves under the basket after a foul and had to be separated.
“I like the fight in the team, but not the fighting,” Rivers said. “To me, when nothing sidetracks you and you just keep going, that’s toughness. That’s what I was proud of. We got the lead, and all of a sudden things started getting chippy. We were able to keep our composure and keep playing. That’s a really good sign for us.”
But Jordan said the bad feelings are lingering.
The source, he said, was “just losing. The way we lost, the amount of points that we lost by. We remember things like that.”
They are sure to remember the three Paul-to-Griffin dunks that put them up by 18 points in the third quarter. The first came off a steal by Griffin, the other two off steals by Paul — all three resulting in breakaways that allowed Paul to loft passes over the rim to Griffin.
The last one put the Clippers up by 88-70.
“It started with defense,” said Griffin, who finished with 23 points and 10 rebounds. “We did it on defense, and that’s what got us going. That’s a positive thing, but we have to learn from that, and we have to know that we can extend the lead and put the game where we need it to be with our defense.”