Clippers’ Paul overcomes injury to hit game-winner against Spurs
When Chris Paul returned from the locker room with a gimpy left hamstring that was heavily bandaged, he ran onto the court.
It was as grand and symbolic a gesture as Paul, the Clippers’ leader, rock and finisher, could’ve made in Game 7 of the Western Conference first-round playoff series against the San Antonio Spurs.
This was Paul’s best performance yet in a 111-109 win over the San Antonio Spurs on Saturday.
About 60 seconds after the Clippers deemed him questionable to return, Paul checked in at the scorer’s table. He went on to score a team-best 27 points with six assists, two rebounds and two steals.
To cap it off, in the waning moments, Paul drove to the right side, saw Danny Green and Tim Duncan coming over to help, and stepped back for a one-handed, off-balance, game-winning shot off the glass with one second left.
"We talked about if we get down into a last-second shot, what we wanted to do," Paul said. "We’ve been in that situation a lot of times already this year and most of the time I hadn’t made it, to tell you the truth. We talked about it, and finally it worked when we needed it."
His momentum took him back near the Clippers bench, which went wild in celebration. The Spurs’ inbounds pass was swatted away by Matt Barnes, allowing the Clippers to knock off the defending champion at Staples Center.
Chris Paul. And that shot. And that comeback. And that hamstring.
It was a wonderfully scripted ending, so it was appropriate that the first person Paul celebrated with was actor Billy Crystal, a longtime Clippers season-ticket holder, who sits courtside. Then he hugged his brother, C.J.
"That’s my ace. My road dog," Paul said. "He’s the guy who, when I’m missing shots, is on the baseline talking junk to me."
Paul and J.J. Redick hugged and cried together. Paul celebrated with the rest of his teammates, too. And then owner Steve Ballmer embraced him.
What a switch from one year ago, when then-Clippers owner Donald Sterling was engulfed in scandal.
"We sort of had that moment a lot of times with Mr. Ballmer, big games and stuff like that," Paul said. "Our team talks about it, and we talked about how he is. He’s amazing, how he supports us, on the road, stuff like that. He’s an amazing owner."
What Paul did is amazing. And there’s uncertainty over whether he’s back on the court Monday for Game 1 in Houston in the Western Conference semifinals.
Clippers coach Doc Rivers said he is "very concerned" about Paul’s injury.
"Chris may or may not play the first game," Rivers said. "The game is Monday. Right now, if I had to guess, I would say no, but I’m not sure."
Paul has family working on that.
"I’m going to get with our training staff," Paul said. "I know my grandmother back in North Carolina is praying. She’ll let my mom pray over it and all that, too. It’ll be all right."
Asked to describe Paul’s heroics, Rivers said: "I could say something (else) but I’d probably get fined if I described what I thought he had. He’s just a tough kid. That’s it. He’s a street fighter. I mean, he really is. I love him to death because of his will."
When Paul went to the locker room near the end of the first quarter with the athletic trainer, he was nearly in tears. Even Paul wasn’t sure how effective he would be or what he could do.
"Blake (Griffin) kept asking me if I was all right, and I thought about our team and all the things we’ve been through and I know that if it was any other guy on the team in a situation like this, they couldn’t have laid down, so I just tried to find a way," Paul said.
Paul went to his postgame press conference wearing street clothes on top and basketball shorts with his hamstring still bandaged.
It was nearly a cruel irony that Paul would suffer an injury in Game 7 when he played all 82 regular season games this year for the first time in his NBA career. And then he came up holding his hamstring during the game. But he came back.
"Chris Paul did a great job just hanging in there," Glen "Big Baby" Davis said. "He’s worked so hard to get his body right and to make sure he’s at top level of conditioning. For him to have a hammy, I can understand how he felt. He played a great game. It was awesome."
Paul said he didn’t sleep Friday night and was at a game for his son, Chris, at 9:45 in the morning. His son told him on the way home that "I had to win (Sunday)."
Not only did the Clippers win, but Paul had the game-winner.
"I’m an emotional guy. I’m crying with Chris. This just adds to his legend," Redick said. "Twenty years from now, I’m going to talk about this series, this game and that little guy and what heart he has. It was crazy."
Said Paul: "I was just overcome with emotion because I was like, all this time, all season long, and then Game 7 my body is going to let me down. That’s what it was all about right there."
And one very big, off-balance, unbelievable, game-winning shot on a bad hamstring.