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Clippers' Chris Paul seizes the moment, lots of them, in Game 1

SportsLos Angeles ClippersNBAColumnPro BasketballBasketballChris Paul
via LA Times: It's Chris Paul's best pure postseason shooting game
via LA Times: Chris Paul also leads a swarming Clippers defense
via LA Times: The Clippers are Paul's team, playing with his drive

He plays with a tight scowl, as if enduring a constant nagging pain, which is more true than Chris Paul would want anyone to believe.

He's spent nine years as the NBA's greatest disappearing star, gone every spring around this time, never in a title series or even a conference finals, a big act never near the biggest stage.

He's spent three seasons as Los Angeles' most unappreciated star, loved by Clippers fans but scorned everywhere else, even booed at Dodger Stadium by Lakers fans who — and this is starting to get a little silly — have little respect for greatness that isn't wearing their uniform.

Chris Paul entered this postseason famous for a ring he doesn't have, a city he doesn't own, and a television commercial featuring a twin brother who doesn't exist.

Maybe that's why, on a wind-stopping Monday night in Oklahoma City, he spent three hours shouting, "Enough."

Enough of the talk that he's too injured and weary to lead the Clippers to NBA greatness, as the smallest starter ducked his head and shouldered them to a stunning 122-105 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder in the opener of their second-round series.

Enough of the idea that his sore hamstring and thumb limit him offensively, as he missed just two of 14 shots and just one of nine three-point attempts, scoring 32 points in the best pure shooting postseason game of his career.

Enough of the talk that he's too slow defensively, as he led a swarming Clippers defense that deadened the dazzling Thunder offense into 18 turnovers, resulting in 23 points.

Enough, enough, enough of the idea that Donald Sterling has anything to do with this anymore.

Paul's role as president of the players' union meant he was especially stressed during the Sterling-stained opening series. He led the players in their jersey protest while wearing black socks and sleeves. Until the final quarter of Game 7 against the Golden State Warriors, he struggled throughout the series with his strength and focus, and even admitted that he was one of several Clippers who fell asleep during Sunday night's film session here.

A day later, biting through the Thunder and its roaring college-type crowd as if they were his dangling mouthpiece, Paul made it clear that everything was different.

"Maybe with all that stuff that happened, winning that series allowed him to breathe a little bit," said Clippers Coach Doc Rivers afterward.

Rivers showed up in a white sleeve and white socks. He took his first shot midway through the first quarter. It was a three-point attempt. He swished. He missed his next shot moments later. He didn't miss again until there were barely five minutes left in the third quarter. During that time, he hit jumpers against seven different Thunder defenders, and ended any last Thunder gasp early in the third quarter with a tumbling three-pointer from the corner with Russell Westbrook in his face.

"That's what I do. That's what I do. [Pause] That's a lie," said Paul with a laugh when asked about his treys. "This one will definitely go down in the history books for me. Don't count on it for Game 2, I'll tell you that."

Paul left the game for good after three quarters, but he was still fighting at the end. He scowled during postgame television interviews on the court and then, while walking off the court, he shouted to a Clippers official after he learned his brother C.J. was unable to buy a courtside seat for the game.

''You better not give their people courtside seats back in Los Angeles!" he barked.

Cliff Paul he isn't, and thank goodness for that.

"I've never been past the second round, this is my ninth season, and every year you think you're going to be back there, but that's not always going to be the case," said Paul, who is turning 29 Tuesday.

"This year is a special team."

There has been talk this season that Paul was slowly giving up leadership of this team to Blake Griffin. The noise increased when Griffin led the Clippers to a 12-6 record while Paul was sidelined with a shoulder injury.

Nobody is talking now. Even though Griffin has better numbers this postseason, including scoring 23 points Monday, this is Paul's team. It has Paul's conscience. It plays with Paul's drive.

In an analogy to another great Los Angeles NBA duo from another day, Paul — in terms of seniority — is Shaquille O'Neal to Griffin's Kobe Bryant. Only they don't hate each other. In fact, on Monday, when Griffin realized that Paul was hot, he stopped posting up and started setting picks.

"When somebody has got it going like that, you just want to try and stay out of the way and keep that fire going," said Griffin.

It is a fire that Paul sucked right out of a gifted but unsettled Thunder team that has now lost home-court advantage and is one loss away from losing its mind.

"That's not who we are," said Thunder Coach Scott Brooks.

That's exactly who Chris Paul is. That's exactly who he's been. This spring, after nine long years, louder than ever, that's exactly what he's saying.

bill.plaschke@latimes.com

Twitter: @billplaschke

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