LOS ANGELES-Chris Paul stood out on an island, isolated from the rest of the world. That island just happened to be the basketball court at Staples Center with the clocking ticking down at the end of regulation of Game 2 of the Western Conference first round playoff series between the Los Angeles Clippers and Memphis Grizzlies.
With Memphis defensive specialist Tony Allen doing his best R. Kelly impersonation of Bump ‘N’ Grind, and draped all over him as time ran down towards the zero mark, Paul did what was expected of him when he was traded to the Clippers from the New Orleans Hornets prior to the 2011-12 NBA season: come up clutch.
Staring down Allen and the Grizzlies’ tight defense, Paul dribbled and went right, taking the ball to the basket and connecting on a running bank shot with less than a tick remaining in the game, scoring the game-winning basket to give the Clippers a thrilling 93-91 win and a commanding 2-0 series lead.
Paul finished the game with 24 points and nine assists, while Blake Griffin came out more aggressively than he did in Game 1 to tally 21 points and eight rebounds. What does this all mean for the Clippers as the series move on to Memphis? That’s a question that will be answered one way or another as the Clippers gather themselves for a rumble and tumble visit in Tennessee.
The Grizzlies, who are certainly going to come out and play with a fury of knowing their backs are against the playoff wall, will get physical. In order for the Clippers to match that intensity and offset the Grizzlies’ rough play, they will need to get physical right back with them.
This may be a big deal. It may not be. Paul and the Clippers have shown they can handle the pressure. Playing and winning in front of Memphis’ hostile environment that they call homecourt advantage won’t be anything new for Paul and the Clippers.
They’ve been there and done that. They’ve come and conquered before. In last year’s memorable, first round playoff matchup, Paul and the Clippers eliminated Memphis from the postseason with a stunning win on the road in Game 7. So it’s not like they don’t know what to expect.
But high expectations is now required from Paul and the Clippers these days. Clipper Nation is no longer content with just winning one or two playoff games. They want more. They expect more.
The Clippers are not just happy to be in the playoffs. The Clippers are looking for a deep run in the postseason. Right now, Memphis is standing in the way for them to move on to the second round. Through the first two games-both at Staples Center-the Clippers have looked and played like playing seven games is not an option for them.
It’s the little things like outscoring your opponent in the paint as the Clippers did in Game 2 against the Grizzlies (50-46) that win playoff series. It’s the small, overlooked details such as outrebounding the other team as the Clippers (40-38) did that can either make or break a team’s postseason hopes.
It is also a good thing to outshoot the opposing team at a higher percentage clip, which the Clippers also made happen. The Clippers have become the glamour team of the NBA with “Lob City” making the highlight reel just about on a nightly basis. But there is a lot more to Paul and the Clippers than being branded as a bunch of Youtube-viewed dunkers, high-flyers and fancy distributors. Paul is the heartbeat of the team.
Griffin is the Clippers’ version of comic book superhero “Nightwing,” flying with jaw-dropping stealth and precision. Without doubt, center DeAndre Jordan is the team’s enforcer. If you’re looking for toughness and resiliency, Caron Butler, Matt Barnes, Lamar Odom, Eric Bledsoe and Chauncey Billups can bring it any night.
The rollover Clippers no longer exist. This is a new day. It’s premature to say how great a team is while they are in the midst of continuing to prove themselves. And that is what the Clippers have done the past two seasons with Paul commanding the ship.
Last year, the Clippers had to prove to the doubters that they were a different squad than in last year’s past. They then went out and showed the haters that they were a team on the rise.
The Clippers have gone to another level this season, winning their first division title and beating their cross-hall rivals in four games. Now that the second part of the NBA season is here, the Clippers still find themselves looking for a little respect.
That’s okay. Respect is earned, not given. The Clippers don’t mind. While their opponents sleep and rest on their laurels from traditional success, Paul and the Clippers are hungry enough to snatch that glory away for themselves. Just ask Memphis.