Over the last seven games, we’ve seen the Chris Paul who dazzled the hearts of fans the past several seasons. In that time, Paul has averaged 22.4 points, 8.9 assists, 3.7 rebounds, and 2.7 steals on 50.5 percent from the field, 41.9 from deep, and 94.1 percent from the line. Those numbers include Monday night’s victory over the Washington Wizards – a victory in which the Los Angeles Clippers never trailed. Paul’s been able to hit his jumper, get to the rim almost at will, and has been a passing maestro. Monday night in the nation’s capital, Paul put it all on display. We’re going to take a look back.
Roughly a minute into the game, we see one of the things Chris Paul can do with great expertise – get to a wide open spot on the floor. As Paul’s bringing the ball up the floor, he gets by John Wall. As he does so, he sort of hesitation dribbles down the right side of the key, and this leads Kelly Oubre Jr. having to slide over and defend. Paul does the Steve Nash dribble around the baseline, but he continues all the way out to the left corner area where he receives a screen from DeAndre Jordan while J.J. Redick clears the zone. Jordan sets a screen, Oubre gets hung up on the screen, and Marcin Gortat does nothing at all but hang back in the paint for weird reasons. Paul comes off the screen, gets to the left elbow, and knocks down a wide open mid-range jumper.
This is what happens when you give Chris Paul way too much room to operate as a ball-handler in the pick-and-roll. Wall didn’t defend this well, Paul got switched onto Oubre by being aggressive, and then he took advantage of Washington’s lackadaisical defensive scheme in pick-and-roll settings. This is only the first basket of the game, but we already can see the issues that he’s about to give the Wizards for the better part of three quarters.
Chris Paul wouldn’t be Chris Paul if it weren’t for his ability to hit rolling big men with the most amazing passes in history, though. On this play, Paul and Jordan run their pick-and-roll set, but the Wizards trap Paul really well at the left wing. It didn’t matter. Paul throws a left-handed bounce pass around Gortat that found Jordan perfectly in stride before Oubre could come down to strip the ball away. Jordan spins, dunks, and two points go on the board just like that. Sure, the dunk is cool. However, this pass is absolutely incredible. He throws a left-handed whipping bounce pass around the back of a defender while threading the needle to a rolling big man before the defender digging down can get there. It’s pure insanity. Oh, and his vision was obstructed on the play. God level.
A little later on in the first quarter, we get one of the ways Paul has been torturing defenses lately. Jordan feeds Paul the ball at the left wing, and then Jordan sets him a screen. Wall goes over the top of the screen, and Paul gets downhill to the rim. As Gortat is backtracking to prevent a Jordan rim run on the roll, Paul throws a quick hesitation move at the free throw line to get everyone off-balance defensively. Wall and Gortat both freeze in their tracks, and Paul explodes to the rim for a tough layup over Gortat. It almost looked as if Gortat was expecting the lob pass rather than the layup attempt. Either way, Paul finished the layup through the contact.
Through the last seven contests, Paul has finished on 17 of his 27 attempts inside of 8 feet. That comes out to 63.0 percent. Even beyond that, 43 of his 148 total drives to the basket – 29.1 percent – have occurred during that stretch. He’s shooting a blistering 65.2 percent on those drives, and he’s contributing points nearly 84 percent of the time. The man is pretty ridiculous right now. Being able to finish through contact is something Paul has been able to do at a respectable level, but he’s been doing so at a darn near elite level in the last several games. Point God is truly back.
During the latter stages of the second quarter, we got to see the greatest dunk of the NBA season to date. Chris Paul springs to the left wing where he awaits a screen from DeAndre Jordan. As Jordan sets the screen, the Wizards ICE the pick-and-roll and trap. Paul recognizes this right away. So, what does he do? He splits the double-team and absolutely flies to the rim where he mashes down a thunderous dunk over the likes of the rookie Oubre for the and-one. When he was growing up, I certainly doubt Oubre thought he’d get dunked on by Chris Paul. Lo and behold, it happened. He should be feeling pretty fortunate right about now.
Just watch the play several times. It’s masterful. The second Paul spots Otto Porter Jr. icing the screen, he throws a quick crossover to get Gortat off-balance, and then he splits right through the mass of bodies to get where he wants. He uses Washington’s own scheme against them. He reads the ICE, tricks the trap, and then splits it entirely. That was only the beginning. The ability to rise up and jam like this is truly special for him. It was his second dunk of the game, but clearly his best one. When factoring in the foul, it’s astonishing. All glory and praise be unto you, Point God. You are truly the stroke of genius this game needs right now.
In the third quarter, we see some of Paul’s passing ability start to come into play again. The Clippers attempt to run a pick-and-roll with Paul and Jordan, but the Wizards do a solid job of really snuffing it out initially. However, Wall does a poor job of actually defending Paul. Wall stays parallel to Paul rather than getting back in front of him after Gortat retreats back into the lane. This space allows Paul to dribble to the left, and get towards the rim. As he does so, the entire defense starts to collapse around him and the rolling Jordan. When Paul recognizes that Oubre had to leave Jamal Crawford on the right wing in order to dig down on Jordan’s roll, Paul fires a pass to the open Crawford for a pivotal three that pushes the lead up to 16 points. It was a huge moment in the game, and a major breakdown by the Wizards that Paul exploited. Also, notice how Garrett Temple refuses to leave J.J. Redick in the left corner to help onto Paul’s drive. That’s the impact Redick can have. Great recognition, great drive, great find, great shot.
Lastly, we see just a hint of Chris Paul’s lasting impact on this game. As the play starts, Paul tries to beat Porter off the dribble on the right wing. When he can’t, he gives the ball up to Austin Rivers. DeAndre Jordan runs up to set a screen for Rivers, which sucks Gortat towards the play, but Rivers then passes back to Paul rather than attack the trap. Jordan rolls to the basket as Rivers passes to Paul, and Paul throws a no-look pass to a wide open Jordan underneath the hoop for an easy dunk. Paul’s recognition of the spacing and defense allows him to no-look here. The reason the no-look pass was so vital was because Paul is staring right at Wesley Johnson in the left corner. By staring at Johnson, Ramon Sessions vacates the paint to help back on Johnson. That one move freed Jordan up entirely for a dunk. What savvy, what smarts, what playmaking.
Chris Paul struggled both offensively and defensively early during the season. Those early season struggles do seem like a thing of the past, though. A large part of that could be that the injuries he suffered, the ones to his hands and groin, have finally gone away. The Chris Paul that the Los Angeles Clippers are getting right now is someone who can definitely be considered a Top 5 player in the entire league. Maybe the absence of Blake Griffin will lead to a more aggressive Paul, and it makes sense since he did fire up 15 first half field goal attempts – which tied a career high for him in a first half. If that’s the case, then the Clippers might be in for something really special because when Chris Paul is on, Chris Paul is a thing of magisterial excellence.