Whatever It Takes

Chris Paul has that look in his eye this postseason.

You know the look I’m talking about.  It’s the look you saw in LeBron James’ eye during Game 6 of the 2012 Eastern Conference Finals.  LBJ showed you the look again today as he dominated Game 4 of the current Heat/Nets series. It’s the look you saw in Kobe’s eye all those times in the playoffs when he brought out the Mamba Face.

It’s a look that says: My will is stronger than yours.  This is my time.

Over the past two weeks, with that look gleaming in his eye, Chris Paul has turned in three truly memorable playoff performances.

It seems like months ago now, but Paul was absolutely masterful in the deciding seventh game of the Clippers’ first round series against Golden State.  His impressive numbers (22 points, 14 assists and 4 steals) told only half the story of his performance that night; when his game management, vocal leadership, defense (primarily on Steph Curry) and clutch play down the stretch proved the difference between keeping the Clippers dream alive and the alternative; a crushing first-round exit.

Chris Paul simply refused to lose that ball game.

Two days later, in Game 1 of the Western Conference Semis in Oklahoma City, Paul shot a ridiculous 8/9 from downtown on his way to 32 points and 10 assists (in only 28 mins) in the Clippers blowout series-opening win.

“He’s just very, very smart,” Clippers Head Coach Doc Rivers said about Paul straight after that Game 1 win. “I thought his intuition today was phenomenal.  He knew we needed a good start and he got one for us.  That’s just why he is who he is.”

Knocking down shot after shot from the perimeter is not Paul’s usual M.O. but all that matters to him right now is leading the Clips to victory.

“I’m one of those people, whatever it takes to win.  I don’t care,” Paul said postgame.  “I don’t care.  I’m never gonna lead the league in scoring or anything like that.  It’s just whatever to try and win.”

Yesterday, with his team trailing by 15 points early in the 4th quarter and staring down the barrel of a deathly 3-1 series deficit, Paul imposed his will on the contest once again.

Seeing the game (and the season) slipping away, Rivers made the surprising adjustment of switching Paul onto NBA MVP Kevin Durant, who at that stage had scored 33 points.

It worked.

Paul (6’0”) rose to the challenge of guarding the much taller Durant (6’9”) for the final 11 minutes of the ball game, frustrating the league’s leading scorer and inspiring his team to a remarkable comeback victory.

Paul’s approach to defending Durant was actually fairly straightforward.

Firstly, he stayed firmly attached away from the ball.  And I mean, firmly.  CP3 was so attached off the ball that he was essentially cuddling Durant for chunks of possessions, wrapping both arms (but smartly not hands!) around KD’s waist to slow down any quick cuts towards the ball.  Secondly, Paul dug his legs in underneath KD on the catch, stifling Durant’s dynamic off-the-dribble game.  And thirdly, Paul aggressively fronted KD in the post, with the Clippers sending an early double-team from the back-side if Durant took possession.

The approach worked wonders.  Oklahoma City lost their offensive rhythm, Paul picked Durant’s pocket for a breakaway layup, Durant struggled to find his teammates out of the double-teams and the Clippers clawed their way back into the series.

Rivers refused to take any credit for the move after the game. “I don’t think that’s brilliant coaching,” he said. “That’s called desperate coaching.”

He went further, flat-out refusing to give Paul any credit for neutralising Durant’s impact.  But he did so with a smile, which suggests that the wily Rivers would love to return that ace to its valuable position up his sleeve for use in case of another emergency.

In addition to his impact defending Durant in the final quarter, Paul finished the game with 23 points, 5 rebounds, 10 assists and 4 steals.

As always, he perfectly understood the importance of the situation.  “Just understanding that sometimes you just got to impose your will,” Paul said postgame. “We just willed this one.  We found a way.”

When you watch Paul play this postseason, you can see in his eyes how much he wants it.

He turned 29 last week and despite all the success he has enjoyed throughout his career thus far – all the All-Star and All-NBA nods, the assists titles, the steals titles, the Olympic Gold Medals – Chris Paul has never made it to the Conference Finals.

“I’ve never been past the second round, this is my ninth season, and every year you think you’re going to be back there, but that’s not always going to be the case, “ said Paul after Game 1 of this OKC series.

“This year is a special team.”

You can see in Chris Paul’s eyes right now that he truly believes that and he’s doing whatever it takes to turn those words into reality.

Whatever it takes.


Follow me on Twitter @liam_santa

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I like to think that I bring the all-important little man’s perspective to the Downtown crew. The rim may be 10-feet high folks but the court, itself, is at ground level. My one season playing ball on the national scene was back in 2001/02, when I played the vital role of 4th-string PG as a member of the Victoria Titans. Go back and watch the tapes, I’m confident that only Patty Mills outranks me worldwide as an end-of-the-bench towel-waver. This experience, however, gives me the kind of an insight into pro hoops that can only be gained by spending time ‘behind the curtain’. These days I spend most of my spare time squeezing every last cent out of my League Pass subscription. And when I’m not playing, watching, writing about or podcasting about basketball, you’ll find me soundly outplaying all-comers at the fantasy version of the game. Safe to say that if I had a tatoo it would say ‘mum’. But if I had two tatoos, the second one would definitely be of a basketball. Follow me on twitter: @liam_santa

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