Chris Paul has company. Greater guards than he have unraveled late in games. Isiah Thomas, on an inbound pass, threw the ball away and the Celtics scored and won game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals. Magic Johnson turned the ball over and it cost the Lakers game 7 of the NBA Finals. And a title. So, Chris Paul is not a man on an island even as his three brain freeze moments on Tuesday night in raucous Oklahoma City cost the Clippers an important win. It was the most humiliating minute of his NBA career. Chris can make shots and miss shots. He can rack up huge assists and rarely turn the ball over. He can glare at Blake Griffin for being too passive. But his true talent is in ball control and game management. He is just smarter than everyone else- until that one night when he wasn’t.
The Clippers face an elimination game on their home floor. The Clipper crowds have been two kinds of people. They have been energetic and frenzied, as they were on Sunday afternoon, or they have been subdued and weary as they were last Friday night. Regardless of the emotion in the building Chris is the leader of the team. Forget Tuesday night’s disaster. If the Clippers are to force a game 7 then it is because of what he can do with the ball in terms of passing, distribution and confidence. His team feeds off of his energy, drive and toughness and they will need all of that tonight. Kevin Durant won’t have another terrible shooting performance. Russell Westbrook will continue to attack the rim and the Clippers defense. Serge Ibaka’s mid range shot will be there on every possession; the Clippers are not guarding him. The game will be won on the Clippers front line with Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan as aggressors on defense and at the rim. But Chris Paul will make it all happen. He is their best player so it all comes down to him.
Indiana vs. Washington- On Tuesday the Pacers acted like the Pacers. They mailed in another game. They suffered another brutal playoff loss. They reignited another debate about their maturity and toughness. Lost in all of it is what the Pacers of 2013-14 are exceptional at: creating chaos and then rising above chaos. They are an adversity team even as the adversity is self inflicted. So many times they have been on the brink and so many times they have responded with a dominant performance. Paul George acts like Paul George. Roy HIbbert acts like Roy HIbbert. David West carries the team with his heart and toughness. No one will be surprised if the Pacers go into Washington and force the up tempo Wizards to play at Indiana’s pace. No will be shocked if the Wizards score 70 points. No one will think anything of it if John Wall misses 60% of the shots he takes and the Wizards are eliminated tonight. On the other hand we expect the opposite, the Wizards pushing the ball and Wall and Beal in transition shoving the ball down the Pacers throat. It is a real possibility. The Wizards young backcourt has grown in this series. They are tougher today than they were ten days ago when this series started. Can’t say the same about the Pacers.