This is what it takes to beat the San Antonio Spurs.
The career-defining performance of a future Hall-of-Famer. A massive triple-double from the game’s most underrated all-court force. 14-of-27 three-point shooting. An injured player’s off-balance layup over a pair of All-League defenders with one second remaining. A fortuitous accidental stoppage by sideline officials during the game’s final possession.
And a whole lot more.
We’ll remember the Los Angeles Clippers’ 111-109 Game 7 victory over the defending champions forever. Perhaps the most well-played first-round matchup in league history somehow culminated in a final contest that outdid the previous six. And while there were a countless amount of players, possessions, calls, and no-calls that made it so and helped decide its dramatic outcome, this game will eventually be known as Chris Paul’s.
The Clippers superstar fought through a first quarter hamstring injury to notch 27 points and six assists, capping an already memorable effort with the series-clinching basket as the fourth quarter clock read :01. He scored 22 of those points after returning to the game from a brief locker room hiatus in the second quarter that left his status for the remainder unknown.
Los Angeles officially listed Paul as questionable to return even as he made his way back to the bench through typically determined eyes just over six minutes before halftime. But there was never any doubt upon the 29 year-old’s resurfacing that he would play in pain – Paul is that type of player and this was that type of game.
And though it’s hard to believe as we bask in the glory of his instant impact performance, his potential effectiveness was hardly so ironclad. It was telling when the Clippers moved Paul off the ball for a Jamal Crawford isolation on the initial possession of the former’s return to action, and just as indicative of his limited state when Los Angeles began eagerly switching 1-5 ball-screens and rolled the ball up the floor to delay the shot clock.
Paul would be hobbled, clearly, and a Clippers victory would be more difficult to come by as a result. Or at least that’s how it appeared at the beginning. But then the Point God made it clear he’d be beaten by San Antonio as opposed to a random injury at the worst possible time.
He skipped from the wing across the paint for a difficult fadeaway over Kawhi Leonard late in the second quarter. He opened the second half by splashing a trey off a kick-out. He pulled up for another triple in early transition a few trips later. He grabbed a loose ball and scurried down the floor to bank-in a long three that gave his team a one-point lead as the third quarter buzzer sounded.
Paul drilled another bomb with Tiago Splitter in his face for Los Angeles’ next basket. He made an easy 15-footer from the elbow after posting Patty Mills. And he took a hand-off from Blake Griffin, rejected his teammate’s screen, planted off his fragile left hamstring and willed in the game-winning layup with over the outstretched arms of Danny Green and Tim Duncan with one second left.