Shortly before taking his place on the
After all, he reminded his teammates, they had just won one without him.
"I told the guys… if it's not broke, don't fix it," said Paul.
Well, OK, but, um, Chris? It's now sort of broke. On the verge of suffering their own personal meltdown during another draining night at the
Wrestling their way back from a potential second consecutive embarrassment, grappling in front of a crowd whose roars grew louder with every takedown, the Rockets finally broke the Clippers of the notion they can easily win this series without their best player and emotional leader.
On the verge of suffering a loss that could have easily led to a series sweep, the Rockets bristled their way to a desperate 115-109 victory.
"We went in there and scrapped and fought for it," said sweat-soaked Rockets Coach
"It was the first game we didn't trust each other," said a frowning Clippers Coach Doc Rivers.
The second-round series is now tied one game apiece, and while the Clippers return to Staples Center for Friday's Game 3 with home-court advantage, this tussle is more even than it looks.
For the Clippers, there is still a bright side, as they dominated the mostly hapless Rockets for much of these two games without Paul — even outscoring them 41-21 in the second quarter Wednesday — and clearly stole much of their mojo.
But the downside for the Clippers is, by the time this night ended with
"Our energy level picked up, and the guys caught a rhythm from our energy," McHale said.
On his way off the court after the victory, while trying to dodge the falling red and white streamers and tune out the jeering fans, Rivers hugged a limping Paul and whispered something in his ear.
"I told him we had our shot here tonight," related Rivers. "I told him to go tell the guys he would be very proud of them."
Darn. Here's hoping he had ordered Paul to get that strained left hamstring healed, and fast.
There is no doubt the Clippers are comparable to the vastly overrated 56-win Rockets even with Paul tied behind their back. But can they win three of the next five games against the Rockets without his tough veteran presence?
It might not have been a coincidence that the last time the Clippers had a chance Wednesday, one of Paul's replacements wound up on a blooper reel. With the Clippers trailing by four points and 37 seconds left, Austin Rivers drove downcourt past Harden and then slipped and slid into oblivion, losing the ball out of bounds.
"He just lost the ball, but we didn't mind that," said his father Doc. "In that situation, it was whoever gets it, goes, and we liked him with Harden, who didn't want to foul."
What the coach could not like is that his son and Jamal Crawford replaced Paul by combining to make 10 of 31 shots with just seven combined assists. What the coach admitted he hated was that
"That's on me," Rivers said of Redick.
And now, it's on Paul, which is where he wanted it in the Game 7 first-round victory against the
"I don't know what I should see, I don't know what to look for," said Rivers, who suffered a similar injury during his playing days and then reinjured it on his first day back, even though he felt great at the time. "We'll see."
Rivers said Paul will test the hamstring in live action on the court Thursday for the first time since suffering the injury Saturday. If he can move, it would be surprising if Paul doesn't at least attempt to return to the lineup Friday.
The Clippers need him. If they were fooled by their easy opening victory against the Rockets without Paul, they were bought back to Earth on Wednesday in the same manner that the Rockets'
"Those things are huge plays, and a lot of times nobody will write about that, and that's a huge point in the game for us," said McHale.
Point taken. Paul needed. Now.