Clippers' Chris Paul not letting fever, injury get in way of best shot at NBA title

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  • Chris Paul
    Chris Paul
    American professional basketball player

OAKLAND, Calif. – Unless you're his wife or brother, don't waste your time calling or texting Chris Paul right now. He's focused.

Points? The All-Star will get them when the Los Angeles Clippers need them, otherwise he's probably passing to Blake Griffin. Miss the entire second half because of a fever? No way. Become even more defensive-minded and channel his inner Tony Allen? If that's what it takes.

The lack of an NBA championship has made Paul into this. And in order to capitalize on his best chance of realizing that elusive NBA title dream, he has developed a crazed focus while enduring a lot of pain, too.

"Nobody cares about your [injured] hamstring. Nobody cares if you're sick or anything like that," the point guard said after the Clippers' 98-96 victory over the Golden State Warriors in Game 3 of their first-round series Thursday night.

"I'm tired of going home early. It's whatever I have to do," Paul added.

Nine NBA regular seasons have now passed for Paul. What he has to show for it is a trophy case full of accolades, including seven All-Star appearances, three all-NBA first-team selections and an NBA Rookie of the Year award. He will turn 29 on May 6 and seems destined for the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame.

But all those individual accomplishments have not done anything but bring individual attention. In five playoff appearances, all his teams have to show for it is two second-round playoff appearances. First-year Clippers coach Doc Rivers, who won an NBA title in 2008 coaching the Boston Celtics, told Paul in their first meeting he hasn't done anything.

An argument could be made that only Kobe Bryant is more competitive than this gritty undersized point guard. But somehow, Paul appears to have an even stronger championship thirst surrounded by a refreshing mature and intelligent approach.

"When you get to the playoffs, it's about winning," Paul said. "You could care less about what the stats are. At the end of the game, it's about whether you have more points than the other team."

Paul averaged 19.1 points this season, his second-highest scoring average over the past five seasons. But against the Warriors, he is much more consumed by the challenge of stopping one of the NBA's greatest shooters in All-Star Stephen Curry than scoring.

Paul said he is determined to be a defensive player like Allen, the gritty defensive-minded Memphis Grizzlies guard. Paul has been Allen-like against Curry by smothering him defensively and making good use of double-teams.

Curry struggled again offensively in Game 3, finishing with 16 points on 12 shots from the field and only four free throw attempts. Paul has played a big role in making Curry go from a dynamic scorer to six points below his scoring average of 18 this series.

Los Angeles had reason to worry as Curry scored like his old self in the fourth quarter with three 3-pointers. The Clippers were up by two points with 7.8 seconds left in the game, but Golden State had the ball with it certainly going in Curry's hands. Paul, who says "defense is fun," wanted the challenge and got it. Paul was physical without fouling Curry in the final seconds as the latter dribbled around the 3-point line.

Curry pushed off Paul's thigh with his right arm and went for the home run 3-pointer. Curry, who thought he was fouled during the sequence, was crowded by Paul and fell to the floor after taking the tough 25-foot step back trey.

"Well, he's supposed to be able to land," Warriors coach Mark Jackson said. "Clearly he wasn't able to. I'm not looking for an apology [from the NBA on Friday], though."

Ultimately, Curry couldn't save the Warriors as the shot fell woefully short and the Clippers advanced to a 2-1 series lead as time ran out at Oracle Arena.

"I knew who was getting it and I figured he was going to shoot it," Paul said. "So I just tried to make him as uncomfortable as possible. And we won the game."

What made Paul's performance even more amazing is the strained right hamstring and bad fever. Rivers was so worried about Paul in the third quarter that he actually decided to take him out. While Paul pleaded, it was Clippers trainer Jason Powell who convinced Rivers to change his mind.

Paul had just five points through three quarters after missing seven of his nine shots, including making just one of his five 3-point attempts. But despite his physical pain and illness, he mustered the strength to not only defend Curry but also score 10 points and nail a 3-pointer in the fourth. Eight of Paul's points came in clutch fashion in the final 3:18.

He even found the energy to trash talk Warriors assistant coach Lindsey Hunter.

"When you win, everything just feels a lot better," Paul said. "When you win games, all that stuff is aching and hurting."

Rivers said that Paul just "willed himself to win."

"He is tough as nails. He has been like this all year," Rivers said.

Paul sat in front of his locker after the game with his feet in a tub of ice, ice bags on both knees and an ice bag on his right hamstring to ease the pain. The reward was another Clippers playoff victory and two days off in San Francisco before Sunday's Game 4.

"We told him we're going to give him these two days, and he said he really needed them. But he told me he will be ready already, which says a lot about him," Rivers said.

The Clippers are still two wins from knocking off the Warriors. Paul professed to his teammates that this victory doesn't win the series and they need to be just as hungry for Game 4 Sunday.

"I understand now that these times don't come around every year," Paul said. "You don't always have an opportunity. You got to go get it."