Flashback to the 2008 Western Conference Semifinals. In a highly contested series, Chris Paul's Hornets are playing the Spurs in a game 7 at home with everything on the line. Paul's team lost that night, the furthest CP3 has ever been in the postseason, and the Chris Paul playoff failure narrative began to develop. Choker. CP0. OKC Game 5. Never made it to the Western Conference Finals. In a game 7 at home against those very same San Antonio Spurs, Chris Paul went full Point God, playing the best game of his career on one leg, scoring a game high 27 points and hitting the game winning shot forever exorcising his playoff demons. MJ's flu game, LeBron's Boston Game 6, the Point God game; these are the types of games that form legacies and are remembered.
Through the first six games of this series, these teams were deservingly tied 3-3. While the games had been frantic and exciting to watch, with one blowout a piece and four evenly matched games decided in the waning minutes, often through poor play on the part of one side, each team had a nagging feeling of underachievement; they had yet to play their best basketball. However, as the saying goes: anything can happen in a Game 7. In this case, anything could and DID happen in this elimination game, with both teams reversing seemingly everything we had come to expect from the series creating a game for the ages.
Tony Parker was hurt this series and couldn't contribute? This game he sliced up the Clippers pick and roll defense accounting for 20 points. Danny Green was doing his best invisible man impression this series? He hit three long balls, scoring 16 points, and had numerous incredible defensive plays including 5 blocked shots. Patty Mills was a human torch off the bench? He went 2-6 this game finally coming down to Earth. The Clippers were ice cold from behind the arc the past 5 games? They made 14 long balls this game shooting 52%. The Clips bench was their achilles heel? Jamal Crawford scored 16 and Big Baby played huge minutes on an injured ankle. The Clippers wings had given little to no production? Matt Barnes had the game of his career scoring 17 points and playing great defense while Redick scored 14 points throwing down dagger three pointers at the end of the game. This game was completely insane; it was the best either team had played throughout the entire series. They constantly traded haymakers one after the another, accounting for 31 lead changes, and making it a proper undercard for the Mayweather – Pacquiao fight.
While there was so much surprise production from unexpected places in Game 7, ultimately both teams still relied heavily on their series's stalwart stars. Blake Griffin continued to play the best basketball of his career, closing out the series with another triple double including 24 points, 13 rebounds, and 10 assists. Chris Paul while hobbled on a strained hamstring still managed to put up 27 points and 6 assists, going 5-6 from behind the arc and making the game winning shot. Tim Duncan continued to fight off Father Time scoring 27 points and grabbing 11 rebounds while Boris Diaw provided crucial "I can't believe he made that" shots. However, Kawhi Leonard had another tough game, scoring only 13 points on 5-13 shooting, though grabbing 10 rebounds. While there were so many different factors that went into deciding this game and, this may be a somewhat reductive take, with role players being a wash, ultimately the Clippers won because Paul and Griffin played better than Duncan and Leonard.
To start the game, the Spurs came out looking determined and focused. Their offense had returned to its laser accuracy and Tony Parker was absolutely destroying the Clippers's defense getting whatever he wanted on the pick and roll as Los Angeles altered poorly between going under picks, switching, and hedging aggressively. The Spurs built a quick lead, but the Clippers kept it close through the continued excellent play by Blake and Matt Barnes showing up huge, hitting a couple of three pointers paired with cuts to the basket. Halfway through the first the Clippers's defense seemed to finally lock in and were not surrendering the same amount of open looks to the Spurs, and the game began to seesaw back and forth. With 1:52 to go in the first Chris Paul grabbed his hamstring and limped to the sideline after having stolen the ball and hit a three in transition. Every Clipper fan held their breath fearing the worst as Paul held his head in his hands, eyes welling up, slowly walking back to the locker room. With Paul's status unknown, it was the Clippers two-man bench of Jamal Crawford and Big Baby Davis that proceeded to keep them in the game by playing terrifically. Jamal went full Jamal mode in the first half, getting into a groove that few could match, and Baby blocked Duncan and inspired the Clippers and crowd to keep up the energy and belief. Paul ultimately returned to the game in the second quarter, but was clearly hampered lacking the same acceleration and ability to move laterally. With Paul hurt and Blake Griffin resigned to the bench with early foul trouble, credit the rest of the team for playing well and allowing the Clippers to head into halftime with a surprising lead 57-55.
During halftime Chris Paul must have borrowed some of MJ's "Secret Stuff" from Space Jam, because he came out hitting back to back three pointers all while hobbling on one leg. Interestingly, Kawhi picked up an early foul getting beat on a back door cut from Barnes, and Pop immediately subbed him out, getting in his face as if trying to teach him a lesson. As the two teams continued to play inspired basketball, both sides just continued to make remarkable plays and timely shots whether it was Danny Green blocking shots and making buckets or Redick pulling up in transition or the Flyin Lion getting dunks. The two foes jousted back and forth throughout the third frame with neither team being able to create distance from the other. At the end of the third, with a foul to give, Austin Rivers fouled Manu Ginobli, whom pulled a "Chris Paul" attempting a full court shot trying to get 3 free throws. In a surprise, for the first time I have ever seen, the officials bought Ginobli's con, awarding him three shots despite having made a point to never make that call the past couple seasons. What irony that CP3, who has probably tried that move 100 times and never gotten the whistle, has that called against him in a Game 7 (even DJ wasn't awarded three shots when he was intentionally fouled attempting to shoot a three earlier this series). Seemingly pissed, Paul stormed down the court and hit a buzzer beating, banking three pointer to end the quarter.
The fourth quarter continued the back and forth play and trading of the lead between the two teams as neither team seemed able to consistently stop the offense of the other. What looked like a huge swing in momentum occurred at the six minute mark as Jamal missed a wide open 3 pointer and the Spurs came right back with Danny Green converting an and 1, putting San Antonio up by 6. Going to the Bang the DJ, Pop forced Doc to substitute Jordan and then cleverly went small which created mismatches around the court for the Spurs with Blake ending up covering Kawhi. Getting Jordan out of the game and going small helped the Spurs grab 9 offensive rebounds converting them into 12 second chance points in the fourth quarter, keeping them in the game and frustrating the Clippers to no end. During the final minutes, both teams kept on hitting remarkable shots and making clutch plays. Every time the Spurs would pull slightly ahead the Clippers would come right back and answer; Redick, Barnes, and Jamal all hit humongous shots to tie the game at different intervals.
With the game tied 107-107 with 30 seconds remaining, Chris Paul was awarded two free throws as he was fouled by Duncan taking his patented midrange jumper. By the rules, Duncan did seem to technically foul Paul as he didn't allow him to come down, but typically referees don't make that call late in games especially when CP3 had such a clean look at the basket. Paul made both free throws putting Los Angeles up 2. Seemingly in order to make up for a questionable call on one end, the officials made another phantom call as Duncan drove to the hoop and had his shot blocked by Barnes, calling Redick for the foul. With ice in his veins Timmy sank both from the charity stripe and the Clippers were left the ball with 8 seconds left.
You know the rest. Paul drove the ball and hit a ridiculous circus shot off of literally one leg in order to bank in the winning shot and send the Clippers into a second round matchup with the Rockets. A few notes on the final seconds: The Staples Center staff messed up the clock on the Spurs final play, which infuriated Pop deservingly so, as the Spurs play was exposed before ultimately failing to convert an alley-oop to Leonard. However, I was most interested in why Kawhi wasn't on Chris Paul for the final two possessions. CP3 was obviously limping and unable to accelerate or move normally, and you have the best perimeter defender in the league, and you opt to put Danny Green on Paul during the final two possessions instead? Interesting coaching choices by Pop.
By all accounts, this far exceeded any normal first round series matchup. Pitting arguably the second and third best teams in the NBA against each other with a host of different legacies on the line, this felt more like a Conference Finals or even Finals between two championship contenders. Much respect to both teams for playing incredible basketball throughout, culminating in the best first round series ever, and a Game 7 to remember. If that was the last time we ever see the original Big 3 together, or Tim Duncan play basketball, this is my standing ovation. Hats off to the Spurs for an amazing series in which only the thinnest of margins, one shot by a Point God, ultimately separated the two teams. Now on to Houston as the Clippers look to quickly recover and gear up for the second round.
Go Clips! Be Relentless! Bang Bang Motherf***er!