It was a classic CP3 performance from the opening tip. He was splashing jumpers, creasing the paint with ease, and acting as the all-encompassing bellwether that he’s been for years when his team needed it most. If there was any question whether or not Paul still had legitimate claim to the title of Point God, his utterly dominant play in Game 4 answered it with resounding confirmation.
And never was that more evident than on three consecutive crunch-time possessions as the Spurs tried desperately to claw back from a nine-point deficit.
Los Angeles led 99-90 with 4:37 remaining after Blake Griffin pulled down Danny Green’s missed triple. Another bucket or three would likely put San Antonio away for good, evening the postseason’s best series at 2-2 as it shifted to Staples Center to begin an epic best of three.
And Doc Rivers’ went back to a familiar, devastating set to put his best player in a spot he loves.
Paul shot a scintillating 50.9 percent (54-106) from the right elbow extended during the regular season, and is making 54.8 percent of his pull-up tries in the playoffs. Free of Danny Green and with Kawhi Leonard occupied elsewhere, too, Paul is afforded ample space to get his shot by aggressively attacking Tim Duncan off the pick and pulling back for an easy jumper.
A more surprising outcome, then, would have been if he missed this off-dribble 19-footer.
Rivers and Paul went right back to that massive double ball-screen following two free throws by Duncan. The Clippers’ point guard used the left side of it this time, however, and immediately “snaked” back to his right as Patty Mills frantically chased behind him – trying to prevent the previous possession’s result.
But Paul is too quick, clever, and crafty to be bothered by the Aussie’s frenetic defense. He crosses back over from right to left just above the elbow, then takes another dribble and runs Mills directly into Boris Diaw – creating what amount to a ball-screen scenario out of thin air.
Paul made 57.6 percent of his tries from the free throw line area this year. He wasn’t missing here.
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Los Angeles used the double ball-screen for a third time after Mills missed a trey and Griffin secured the board. Now up 103-92 with 3:40 left, another basket might legitimately be the knife in the Spurs’ back – and Paul knows exactly where he’s going to get it.
The nuance behind this entire possession is the 29 year-old’s genius encapsulated. He fakes right high above the screen to get Mills leaning that direction and jets back left to run the Spurs’ speedy reserve right into Glen Davis. Paul has only Duncan between he and the rim now, and immediately shakes his fellow future Hall-of-Famer with an in-out dribble that gives him a clear lane to the basket and forces weak-side help from Marco Belinelli.
And who is Belinelli checking? The Clippers’ resident three-point marksman, J.J. Redick.
Leonard made things a bit more interesting from there with a pair of three-pointers on successive possessions, but San Antonio never got any closer than 106-98. The game was essentially over following Redick’s triple, a reality made by possible not just by Paul’s ridiculous pin-point kick-out, but also his pair of jumpers on Los Angeles’ previous trips down the floor.
This is what great players do. And if the Clippers can take two of three from the defending champions and advance to the Western Conference Semifinals, we’ll have surely had the chance to watch Paul pick apart the Spurs in crunch-time again.