Chris Paul crossed over at the top of the three-point arc, took five aggressive dribbles, and attacked the right side of the lane. As the floater left his fingertips, there was no doubt over what the result would be. There was nothing the outstretched arms of Tony Allen and Darrell Arthur could do. The shot banked in, and the Los Angeles Clippers took a commanding 2-0 lead over the Memphis Grizzlies in the first round of the Western Conference playoffs.
With the series now heading back to Memphis, the Grizzlies will have to figure out a way, if there is any, to stop Paul. The diminutive floor general – widely considered the best point guard in the league – has had his way with Grizzlies. He’s dictate their pick-and-roll coverage, finding open teammates in the 3-point corner and under the rim, and making unbelievable plays like he did Monday night.
The opening weekend of the playoffs was somewhat of a bore. Six of the eight games were decided by double-digits. Another game, the Denver Nuggets vs. the Golden State Warriors, came down to a buzzer-beater, but it was by wily veteran Andre Miller, who hardly moves the needle among casual basketball fans.
So Paul’s shot was the first dose of exciting playoff basketball, like the first crazy upset in March Madness. The Clippers defeating the Grizzlies was no upset — they led almost the entire game — but it was a dramatic moment on the grandest stage, and Paul calmly showed us why he’s been in the MVP conversation all season.
While 24 points and 9 assists would be a career game for most NBA players, it was just another ordinary outing for Paul. And although he was the primary factor in the Clippers’ victory, he was certainly not alone.
Blake Griffin scored 21 points, a significant increase from an 11-point outing in Game 1, when he dealt with foul trouble and frustration. Griffin made it clear that he was the best big man in the series, at least offensively, and that no Grizzly has a chance of defending him one-on-one. With a series of hook shots, spin moves, and up-and-unders, Griffin flashed the post moves most detractors have been waiting for.
The third leg of the Clippers’ attack was Jamal Crawford, who had found out earlier in the day that he finished second in the Sixth Man of the Year award, a snub in his eyes. The Grizzlies were the brunt of his retaliation, including 15 points and a bevy of ball-handling highlights and step-back jumpers.
The admirable performance of his sidekicks notwithstanding, Paul was the star of the best game in these young playoffs. There will certainly be other close games and game-winning shots, but few will top what Paul pulled off.
Many pundits have been skeptical of the Clippers all season, and picked the Grizzlies to win the series despite not having home-court advantage. It appears, however, that the Clippers have found their mojo and returned to their level of play this winter, when they reeled off 17 wins in a row and went undefeated in the month of December. With the way they’ve played recently, maybe they can even challenge the mighty Oklahoma City Thunder in the second round.
But whether you believe in them or not, the Clippers are sure fun to watch. Leave it to Lob City to properly commence the postseason. Welcome back playoff basketball, we missed you.