Doc Rivers put it best: "That's a series for the ages," the Clippers coach said after his team polished off the San Antonio Spurs, 111-109, on Saturday night at Staples Center in Game 7 of a series so close that the average score was Spurs 103.4, Clippers 103.0. But the Clippers won the game that mattered most, advancing to face the Houston Rockets in the Western Conference semifinals starting Monday with the series opener in Houston. Here are five takeaways from the Clippers' Game 7 victory over the Spurs:
1. Chris Paul had a game for the ages in the series for the ages. Playing largely on one leg for most of the final 2 1/2 quarters after straining his left hamstring, the Clippers point guard banked in an improbable running jumper over the Spurs' Tim Duncan for the final points of a game that featured 31 lead changes and 16 ties. "If you wrote a script," Clippers guard Jamal Crawford said, "this is how the ending would be." Paul also banked in a 37-foot jumper at the end of the third quarter on the way to 27 points on nine-for-13 shooting. He said there was no way his injury was going to keep him from playing during a season in which he played all 82 games for the first time. "I thought about our team and all the things we've been through," Paul said, "and I know that if it was any other guy on our team in a situation like this, they couldn't have laid down, so just tried to find a way."
2. Others kept the Clippers afloat with Paul out. Crawford took over the point guard duties and logged a couple of important assists, finding J.J. Redick for a corner three-pointer and Blake Griffin for a dunk. Forward Glen Davis made his usual energy plays off the bench and forward Matt Barnes was a galvanizing force among his teammates with Griffin on the bench with foul trouble. When Paul re-entered with 6:27 left in the second quarter, clearly bothered by his injury, the Clippers were down by only one point. "It took a lot of guts from everybody," Clippers center DeAndre Jordan said. "We needed everybody tonight." Said Rivers: "I thought that was the difference in the game, that stretch. They could have gotten away from us with our two key guys out of the game, and they didn't, and I thought that was the difference in the game."
3. Griffin became the first forward with a triple-double in a Game 7 of the NBA playoffs since Scottie Pippen with the 1992 Chicago Bulls. Griffin finished with 24 points, 13 rebounds and 10 assists, celebrating afterward with his young son, Ford Wilson Cameron-Griffin, who made his debut appearance in the interview room. "He has no clue what's going on," Griffin said as he addressed reporters while seated next to Paul. "He has no clue what just happened or who he's sitting next to. I don't really know how to describe it. It puts everything in perspective."
4. A mutual admiration society formed in the interview room afterward. The Clippers and Spurs traded compliments with the same volume in which they had exchanged memorable plays throughout the series. "A lot of respect for those guys," Spurs forward Tim Duncan said. "We thought we kind of had them at certain points, they continued to fight, made some unbelievable shots, unbelievable plays." Said Spurs Coach Gregg Popovich: "Both teams played with class. There was no baloney going on out on the court except for me fouling Jordan, I guess." Rivers was equally effusive about the Spurs. "That is the classiest organization, the classiest players, the best coach to me ever, or one of the top ones, so all our respect goes to them," Rivers said. "I'm a better person because I went through this series, I guarantee you that."
5. Houston, you have a problem. The Rockets have less playoff pedigree since 1997 (winning two series) than the Clippers do since Paul's arrival (three series victories). They have also dropped 11 of their last 14 games against the Clippers and will be playing without injured point guard Patrick Beverley, though they did win the last two meetings between the teams, and star center Dwight Howard did not play in any of the games in the series this season. Not that the Clippers think their season is ending any time soon. "We've had a lot of playoff disappointments in the past," Barnes said, "But we feel like this is our year. We're not done and believe we're the best team in the playoffs. We just have to show everybody that."