What a battle. (Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports)
Those of us who stuck around through the Chicago Bulls-New York Knicks rock fight (punctuated, as it was, by one sublime moment of shot-making) that opened TNT's Thursday doubleheader received a rich, rich reward once the action shifted to Staples Center — Chris Paul and Stephen Curry going head-to-head and haymaker-to-haymaker for 48 glorious minutes.
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If you didn't see it, here's what CP3 did:
And here's how Curry responded:
Paul drove, directed and dazzled, disrupted and dished, and even dunked. The $107 million man paced the Clippers' high-powered offense to a 10-point lead after 12 minutes and 68 first-half points, then continued to keep the pressure on come the second half. L.A. scored at an obscene rate during Paul's 37 minutes on the floor on Thursday — an average of 124.8 points per 100 possessions, according to NBA.com, a number that would lead the league by so much over the course of a season as to be essentially imaginary — and saw their offensive efficiency fall off a cliff (paul) when he sat, plummeting to a 71.2 points-per-100 pace. (Breaking news: Darren Collison is not Chris Paul.)
Faced with countering CP3's brilliance, Curry bombed away to keep the Dubs in hailing distance, hitting again and again from deep with an ease that made the blistering, historic pace he maintains seem simple and obvious. He determinedly walked down the Clips' big leads, which got as high as 19 late in the third quarter, on a night where fellow gunslinger Klay Thompson couldn't shake loose, scoring just 10 points on 3 for 7 shooting after torching the Los Angeles Lakers for 38 on Wednesday.
The point guards combined for 47 second-half points — 32 of which came in the fourth quarter alone — on blistering 15 for 24 shooting. It was glorious to watch. But while Curry kept hitting bananas step-backs and ringing up four-point plays, he also kept coughing the ball up, leveling his nine assists with 11 turnovers, the most in the NBA in nearly three years. Paul, on the other hand, dropped 15 dimes against six turnovers, with nine of his helpers leading directly to layups or dunks, and three more resulting in 3-pointers.
Paul's ability to deftly pick the proper times to penetrate and create contact (16 for 17 from the free-throw line on the night; Curry's deep shooting resulted in only one free-throw attempt), pull up before getting in amongst the trees (8 for 12 inside the 3-point arc but outside the restricted area) or draw attention and dish kept Golden State off balance and at arm's length all night, pushing the Clippers to an impressive 126-115 home win. He finished with 42 points on 12 for 20 shooting from the floor, 15 assists and six steals, a showcase of all-around full-court control that made him the first player since 1973-74 (the first year that steals were counted as an official statistic) to go for 40-15-5 in the same game ... and, naturally, after the game, all he could talk about was Steph's shooting.
Well, Steph's shooting and Craig Sager's suit. Obviously.
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