SIT­U­A­TION IS CRIT­I­CAL

Paul has heard all about his post­sea­son fail­ures, and he’s not go­ing to let it stop him from reach­ing the next level with the Clip­pers

Los Angeles Times - - SPORTS - By Ben Bolch

Dis­ap­point­ment found Chris Paul long be­fore those early NBA play­off ex­its.

He was so worked up in his first game as a var­sity high school point guard af­ter two years on the ju­nior var­sity that he cried af­ter his team lost its opener.

“I’ve had guys cry in the locker room af­ter a last game,” said David La­ton, who coached Paul at West Forsyth High in Clem­mons, N.C., “but not ever the first game.”

The next day Paul went from tears to teardrops, mak­ing floaters and fling­ing passes that were so good his team­mates needed sev­eral games to ad­just to the ad­vanced play­mak­ing. It was back to bas­ket­ball for some­one who needs noth­ing more to mo­ti­vate him­self than hav­ing a ball in his hands and hard­wood un­der his feet.

Not that oth­ers haven’t tried to pro­voke Paul through­out his decade in the NBA.

ESPN’s Skip Bay­less said the Clip­pers vet­eran wasn’t a su­per­star and called him “CP Zero Rings,” a some­what taste­less take on his CP3 nick­name. Oth­ers have also dis­par­aged him for never mak­ing it past the sec­ond round of the play­offs, get­ting that far only once with the New Or­leans Hor­nets and twice with the Clip­pers.

When it comes to the crit­i­cism, bring it on, be­cause Paul doesn’t seem to care.

“It’s not a se­cret,” Paul said of his lack of play­off suc­cess. “I’m funny, man. I’m one of those peo­ple, I don’t need any­thing to drive me. I’m go­ing to play re­gard­less. Win it, lose it, say

[Paul, I’m the best, say I’m the worst, I’m go­ing to play.”

The Clip­pers wouldn’t want any­one else or­ches­trat­ing their of­fense as they open the play­offs Sun­day night at Sta­ples Cen­ter against the de­fend­ing NBA cham­pion San An­to­nio Spurs. Paul has a higher ca­reer player ef­fi­ciency rat­ing than those of Hall of Famers Magic John­son and Os­car Robert­son and a com­pet­i­tive streak ri­valed by few in NBA his­tory.

When Paul met with re­porters Thurs­day, sweat ran down his face in streaks and his T-shirt was drenched. Noth­ing un­usual about that, ex­cept for the fact it was be­fore the start of prac­tice.

Lak­ers Coach By­ron Scott ranked Paul among the five most com­pet­i­tive play­ers he had ever coached or played along­side — a group that also in­cludes John­son, Ka­reem Ab­dulJab­bar, James Wor­thy, Kobe Bryant and Ja­son Kidd.

“It’s a cer­tain makeup that most guys have that are great play­ers that don’t like los­ing,” said Scott, who coached Paul for parts of five sea­sons in New Or­leans. “They just have it, and C.P. is one of those guys.”

C.J. Paul has a pretty good idea what makes his younger brother that way. He used to pum­mel Chris in bas­ket­ball, board games, golf and bowl­ing, trig­ger­ing that trade­mark scowl and a de­ter­mi­na­tion to win the next matchup.

Chris wanted to win so badly when he ran for class pres­i­dent in high school that he and C.J. would give away Krispy Kreme dough­nuts to fel­low stu­dents on elec­tion day. Chris was class pres­i­dent all four years.

“It def­i­nitely comes from him be­ing small grow­ing up,” C.J. Paul said of his sib­ling’s com­pet­i­tive­ness. “If you think about it, at ev­ery level he’s played at he’s been small. In col­lege he was a small guard and at this level he’s small. Ev­ery­one has doubted him and told him he’s short and he couldn’t do it.”

Chris grew five inches the sum­mer be­tween his sopho­more and ju­nior years of high school, fi­nally near­ing 6 feet. By the time he was a se­nior, he was dunk­ing in games.

And that dy­namic of the big brother dom­i­nat­ing the lit­tle one? Pretty much over.

“He took his lumps,” said C.J., who went on to play col­lege bas­ket­ball at Hamp­ton and South Carolina Up­state, “but then once he kind of grew big­ger than I was, then he started de­liv­er­ing it back to me.”

C.J. wasn’t the only one. Af­ter star­ring for two sea­sons at Wake For­est, the 6footer be­came an All-Star in his third NBA sea­son, an honor he has earned ev­ery year since. Hall of Famer and TNT an­a­lyst Charles Barkley said this week he con­sid­ered Paul and Spurs coun­ter­part Tony Parker the top point guards in the NBA over the last five sea­sons, while la­bel­ing Paul the best leader in the league.

But then there’s that whole not-get­ting-past-thesec­ond-round thing. Paul came clos­est with New Or­leans, hold­ing a three-games-to-two lead over the Spurs in the 2008 West­ern Con­fer­ence semi­fi­nals.

“When we went

into Game 6,” Scott re­called, “I wanted us to re­ally try and get it done that night be­cause I knew San An­to­nio had more ex­pe­ri­ence than we did go­ing into a Game 7, so I knew they would be a lit­tle bit more ready and we just came out and were a lit­tle ten­ta­tive be­cause we hadn’t been there be­fore.”

San An­to­nio won the fi­nal two games, over­com­ing an 18-point, 14-as­sist, five-steal per­for­mance from Paul in Game 7.

The Spurs also swept Paul in the con­fer­ence semi­fi­nals in 2012, his first sea­son with the Clip­pers.

That de­feat couldn’t have pos­si­bly stung as much as the Clip­pers’ loss to the Ok­la­homa City Thun­der in the sec­ond round last sea­son. With the se­ries tied at two games apiece and the Clip­pers hold­ing a two-point lead with 17.8 sec­onds left in Game 5, Paul bun­gled three plays as part of his team’s seven-point col­lapse in the fi­nal minute.

He made a turnover af­ter jump­ing into the air, ex­pect­ing to be fouled but in­stead hav­ing the ball stripped; he fouled Rus­sell West­brook on a three-point at­tempt, the re­sult­ing free throws giv­ing the Thun­der a one-point lead; and he lost the ball with less than a sec­ond to play, pre­vent­ing the Clip­pers from get­ting off one last shot.

The Clip­pers lost the game and the se­ries two days later. Paul took full re­spon­si­bil­ity for what he called the worst mo­ment of his bas­ket­ball life.

“Af­ter that game, it was hard for him be­cause he knew it was pretty much his fault and he felt like that was a chance for him to go to the next level,” C.J. Paul said. “We live and learn and I think he’s learned from that and I think he will be a bet­ter player for that. But I don’t think that drives him.”

Paul will turn 30 early next month. His le­gacy should al­ready be se­cure con­sid­er­ing all those Al­lS­tar games and the fact that he won Olympic gold medals in 2008 and 2012.

There’s also the mat­ter of prob­a­bly hav­ing at least five more NBA sea­sons in front of him.

“I don’t un­der­stand why any­body’s talk­ing about any­body’s le­gacy when they’re 30,” Clip­pers Coach Doc Rivers said. “I’ve never fig­ured that one out. Lega­cies, you talk about them af­ter ev­ery­thing’s done. You can’t worry about in the mid­dle of it what you have to do to make a bet­ter le­gacy. It’s silly talk to me.”

The busi­nesslike Paul rarely cracks a smile, though he does get the last laugh on oc­ca­sion. North Forsyth High, the team that handed Paul that de­feat early in his ju­nior year and went on to beat West Forsyth again, met Paul’s team a third time in the state play­offs.

Paul scored 28 points and forced a turnover in the fi­nal sec­onds to help his team win.

Of course, the past doesn’t seem much of a mo­ti­va­tor to some­one who al­ways tries to live in the present.

“I want to win now be­cause this is what’s at hand,” Paul said. “It’s about right now.”

Robert Gau­thier Los An­ge­les Times

CHRIS PAUL HAS NEVER ad­vanced be­yond the sec­ond round of the play­offs. The worst de­feat might have been last sea­son against Ok­la­homa City, when he had a hor­ri­ble time in the fi­nal minute of Game 5.

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