Did the Mavericks get tired, or did Chris Paul get angry?
Whichever way you choose to slice it, Chris Paul caught some ungodly kind of fire in the third quarter, scoring 18 of his 27 points to accelerate the Clippers past Dallas, 109-90.
How good was Chris Paul? JJ Redick made 4 of 6 three-pointers, keyed the Clipper offense through the first half, scored 22 points for the game, and is an afterthought. DeAndre Jordan, playing once again in front of a raucous Dallas crowd and largely silencing them with 20 rebounds and a season-high 23 points, is an afterthought. The Clipper defense in the second half was taut, attentive, precise, and stifling, and gets relegated to second billing. Chris Paul was sensational.
Chris Paul was so good, in fact, that this game turned against the Mavericks faster than DeAndre did (gratuitous DeAndre joke #1). With 4:37 remaining in the third period, the game was tied at 65. The Clippers led 83-68 as the game ticked over into the fourth quarter. Six minutes and six seconds later, the Clippers' lead had swollen to 30. Like DeAndre in free agency, this game simply left the Mavs behind (gratuitous DeAndre Joke #2).
All this after a first half that was as closely contested as one gets. Dirk Nowitzki had a Mavs-high 12 points on his way to 22 for the game, often matched up against fellow 1998 draftee/future Hall-of-Famer Paul Pierce, and stretched the Clipper defense in all the wrong ways. The two sides swapped the lead 11 times in the first half with 12 ties.
Some of Dallas' early production came courtesy of the officials. The Mavericks were given an 8-free-throw advantage in the first half and converted at a much better clip. However, it wasn't all the refs' fault. With Dirk drawing attention all over the floor, the Mavericks zipped through open gaps and fired the ball around the court, generally getting clearer looks at the basket than the ones they allowed their opponent.
They also pounded the offensive glass with the gargantuan Zaza Pachulia and the crafty David Lee. The pair paced the Mavericks with 4 offensive rebounds each. Lee added 13 points off the bench, and was one of only three Mavs to score in double-figures. Lee showed shades of his former Golden State self, killing the Clippers early with well-timed backcuts behind a defense pulled away by Dallas' shooters. Chandler Parsons, himself on fire as of late, was held to just 9 points on 25% shooting.
So whether it was the 24-hour turnaround after playing extra basketball in Denver that doomed Dallas' legs, or Chris Paul simply tiring of his team's uneven play to that point, the Clippers dominated the crucial third quarter that was decided 33-16 in Los Angeles' favor.
The point god did it in every conceivable way. He spun and jetted down the floor for a no-look assist. He danced around defenders for fall-away jumpers. The most iconic shot of the game came as the third quarter expired, with Chris Paul hanging in the air and releasing a picture-perfect floater over David Lee's outstretched arm. Chris Paul wasn't actually floating himself, it only seemed that way.