One-man show: Chris Paul’s brilliance powers Clippers past Thunder in Game 1
OKLAHOMA CITY — Chris Paul’s night defied explanation, but after the performance he offered Monday at Chesapeake Energy Arena, it was still worth a try.
"That’s what I do," he said, suppressing a smile.
Not exactly. Paul is a passer, not a shooter, but he was almost unstoppable offensively in Game 1 of the Clippers’ Western Conference semifinal series against the Oklahoma City Thunder. His impeccable shooting lifted the Clippers to a 122-105 rout of the Thunder in the best-of-seven opener.
Paul was close to perfect, making 12-of-14 shots and 8-of-9 3-pointers for 32 points. He sank his first attempt at the 6-minute 21-second mark of the first quarter, missed his next shot, then dropped in 10 in a row.
He didn’t miss against until the 5:21 mark of the third.
The Clippers used his shooting as a springboard to a 39-point opening period. They led by as many as 24 points in the second quarter and pushed it to 28 in the third before coach Doc Rivers sat Paul and Blake Griffin for the entire fourth.
"It was special," teammate Jamal Crawford said. "He set the tone right from the start. He came out more aggressive than he usually does and it set the tone. Guys were able to relax. We were able to get a nice rhythm."
It was, in every sense, a beatdown of a Thunder team that won the No. 2 seed in the conference and outlasted the Memphis Grizzlies in a seven-game series. But while Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook had their usual games — Durant scored 25, Westbrook 29 — OKC’s defense offered little resistance to Paul.
"It’s not Chris Paul vs. the Thunder," Westbrook said. "It’s the Clippers vs. the Thunder."
True, but Paul was a one-man show for most of the night. He had 17 points after the opening quarter and 22 at the half, going 6 for 6 from behind the arc.
"When somebody’s got it going like that, you just want to stay out of the way as much as possible but also help keep that fire going," said Griffin, who scored 23 points in his return to his Oklahoma City home. "The first quarter was crazy. We were just trying to spring him, get him open, but in the second half we were moving the ball so well."
In fact, the Clippers kept their offense moving well in the second half, even as Paul rested.
"We moved the ball," Rivers said. "We shared the ball. We were really good with our spacing. Tonight, we just had one of those nights where the ball found the open guy every single time."
The Clippers had a quick turn-around, closing out their first-round series against the Golden State Warriors on Saturday night, catching a charter flight on Sunday and then crossing two time zones for Game 1.
Considering how emotional the past week was, it was understandable if they felt exhausted. Their Game 7 win over the Warriors was tight and stressful.
"I was tired," said Paul, who has been struggling to play with a sore hamstring. "That was a very emotional game, but nobody was going to feel sorry for you tonight."
There was no pity from Thunder fans, but the Clippers played as if they were on fresh legs with fresh minds. Especially Paul.
Still, no one should expect a repeat performance Wednesday night in Game 2. At least, that’s what Paul said afterward.
"It was just one of those nights," he said. "I promise you, it’s got to be a career high for me.
"Don’t count on it for Game 2, I’ll tell you that."