Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Chris Paul Is The Best Guard On The Planet

Tonight in LA, Chris Paul did what he does in the playoffs: put a clearly inferior team on his back and dragged them to victory. And in the process, he cemented his status as the best point in the world, the best guard in Los Angeles, and the most compelling player in the playoffs.

How good was CP3? He was the Clipper offense in the fourth quarter and overtime, when the team's sets seem to be Run Away From Chris And Watch Him Bail Us Out Anyway. He finished with a 27-9-7, with just two turnovers, in a had-to-have game where his team's only real interior scorer, Blake Griffin, fouled out halfway through the overtime. He kept the Clips from losing the turnover battle , and in the lead in fast break points, despite defensive pressure that verged on 1 on 5. He made a team with copious amounts of Reggie Evans, which is to say a 4-on-5 lineup, effective in the half court. He was so good that Mike Conley, his opposite number at point guard, had a 25-7-8 of his own tonight, and still didn't look like he belonged on the same court as Paul. This, even with Paul being unable to get a final shot off at the end of regulation, as the Griz finally got an effective double team on him. And he kept me up well past 2am EST, just to bear witness to his greatness.

As Charles Barkley said, the Clips did everything possible to lose this game in the crunch time, and Griz coach Lionel Hollins let Paul beat his team, rather than put Evans and Griffin on the line, or overplay Paul with premier defender Tony Allen. But the simple fact of the matter is that Paul *does* beat teams; he did it in New Orleans with a roster that was lottery from the word go this year, and now he's doing it in Los Angeles with a roster filled with guys who have zero playoff experience and matching sense. Hollins was reduced to talking about Paul flopping and gaming the refs in mid-game, as if he doesn't earn it. And at some point, Paul is going to run into a defensive scheme and coach that do the smart thing, and this party will end... but in the meantime, wow. Just wow.

The Clips won Game One after Paul led a fourth quarter steal. They won Game Three by a point; they won tonight by four, with uncharacteristically good free throw shooting. Without Paul, this is a Grizzly sweep, and it's not close. Without Paul, this series looks like every other when one team has a dominating edge in the front court. Without Paul, it's the usual Clipper team, where they squander their athleticism and lose any game where the other team plays grindball.

This series is, in all likelihood, far from over: in a series that's devoid of coaching, any adjustment might work like gangbusters. And I'm more than OK with that, because pro hoop doesn't have to be smart to be fantastic to watch... and more Chris Paul in our lives is more Chris Paul in our lives. What a player.

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