Welcome back: Chris Paul lights up Thunder in return to OKC

Welcome back: Chris Paul lights up Thunder in return to OKC
Welcome back: Chris Paul lights up Thunder in return to OKC

OKLAHOMA CITY – Before Kevin Durant, this was Chris Paul's town. With the New Orleans Hornets displaced by Hurricane Katrina, Paul spent part of his first two NBA seasons here. He wore OKC on his chest, and he won over the fans with his passion and relentlessness. This was football country, Sooner Nation, but Paul gave them a reason to believe in the NBA.

On Monday night, Oklahoma City once again belonged to him. Paul buried Durant and he buried the NBA franchise he helped deliver here, making eight 3-pointers in a stunning 32-point, 10-assist performance that had many of those same fans who once cheered for him now trudging toward the exits in frustration.

The NBA will officially anoint Durant as its MVP on Tuesday, and Paul wasn't willing to let the coronation ceremony start early. With the Los Angeles Clippers routing the Oklahoma City Thunder 122-105 in the opener of the teams' Western Conference semifinal playoff series, this night wasn't a testament to Durant's greatness, but rather that of the star born here before him.

"I always say this about Oklahoma – it'll always have a special place in my heart," Paul said. "This is where I won Rookie of the Year. … This is where I started becoming a professional."

Paul never gave Durant or the Thunder much of a chance, making his first eight 3-point attempts, a career high.

"This one will definitely go down in the history books for me," Paul said. "Don't count on it for Game 2."

Paul's performance came less than 48 hours after the Clippers closed out the Golden State Warriors in a ferocious seven-game series that was equally physically and mentally draining because of the NBA's banishment of owner Donald Sterling. Paul hardly looked dominant through parts of that series, averaging 17.4 points and nine assists as a hamstring issue slowed him.

Clippers coach Doc Rivers had even said during the Warriors series that he was counting on Paul's defense, not his offense. Jamal Crawford and J.J. Redick often carried the scoring load.

Paul admitted he was tired after the Warriors series, but took athletic trainer Jasen Powell's advice by coming to the training room early Sunday for treatment before the team flew to Oklahoma City. He also came to Chesapeake Arena early Monday to shoot.

"I got a lot of shots up," Paul said. "I think that had a lot to do with [my performance], too."

Paul made all five of his 3-point attempts in the first quarter, including a step-back 28-footer with 2.8 seconds left to give the Clippers a 39-25 lead.

"I just kept trying to be aggressive," Paul said. "I didn't want to force it or anything like that, because I'm one of those people who think that whenever you're hot or something like that if you take a bad shot then it's gone."

By the end of the first half, Paul had 22 points and six assists. Clippers forward Blake Griffin kept telling him to be aggressive.

"When someone has it going like that, you just want to stay out of the way as much as possible and also keep that fire going," Griffin said. "That first quarter was crazy."

Paul made two more 3-pointers to start the second half before finally missing on his ninth attempt. The rout allowed him to play just 27 minutes.

Thunder guard Russell Westbrook didn't appear impressed.

"It wasn't that crazy," Westbrook said. "He hit eight threes. … We will live with it."

If Paul stays healthy, the Thunder could continue to have a major challenge against the Clippers.

"I just felt like he felt better," Rivers said. "You could see it."

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