OAKLAND—He limped toward the locker room at halftime with a bulky wrap around his left hamstring, his left thumb also having bothered him enough to require several minutes of treatment as he sat on the bench.
Chris Paul was tired, and he was hurting.
Making everything all the more painful for the Clippers point guard Thursday night at Oracle Arena, his Golden State Warriors counterpart was converting.
Stephen Curry opened the game with a flourish, his shot-making helping the Warriors shrug off an early nine-point deficit and look as if they might extend their first-round playoff series one more game.
Curry eventually cooled, but Paul couldn’t keep from overheating even as he gutted out 33 achy minutes during the Clippers’ 100-99 loss in Game 6. The decisive Game 7 is Saturday at Staples Center.
Paul finished with a very un-Paul-like nine points and eight assists to go with four turnovers, the final indignity coming when he missed a layup with 43 seconds left that could have brought the Clippers to within two points.
“I’m OK,” said Paul, typically pooh-poohing everything wrong with his body. “Tough game. Bumps and bruises you get through. We’ve just got to be ready for Game 7.”
Curry had 24 points, making nine of 24 shots and coming up with an important miss with four-tenths of a second left when he intentionally bricked a free throw, allowing a teammate to bat the ball into the air.
It was astonishing that Paul, also dealing with a sore shoulder and the emotional aftermath of Clippers owner Donald Sterling’s recent lifetime ban, could even finish the game.
“He’s dealing with a lot of stuff,” Clippers Coach Doc Rivers said, “but listen, he’s on the floor and Golden State doesn’t care. He does have injuries and there’s no doubt about that.”
After Paul hauled down a rebound in the corner midway through the third quarter, the Clippers had to call a timeout for their star playmaker, who doubled over for a breather as teammates Jamal Crawford and Jared Dudley walked toward him to make sure he was OK.
Soon it became too much, the Clippers subbing in Darren Collison for Paul with 4:35 left in the quarter while Paul’s fellow starters remained on the court.
Paul rallied his team after reentering with 10:15 left in the game. He made a pull-up jumper. He threw a lob to Crawford for a layup off an inbounds pass.
But he couldn’t make that late layup. His legs wouldn’t let him.
Curry carried the first half, largely on the strength of a 14-point first quarter in which he continually came around screens and made six of 12 shots as Paul struggled to keep up.
Paul slogged his way to seven points and six assists in 16 first-half minutes, the Clippers managing his playing time closely.
“Chris is playing terrific defensively, and that’s what we need him to do in the series,” Rivers said. “It probably does take a little off his offensive game, but I’m good with that.”
Warriors Coach Mark Jackson didn’t seem to like it before the game when a reporter suggested the hot-and-cold Curry should “sort of take over” the series as Michael Jordan famously did for years for the Chicago Bulls.
“I appreciate that question,” Jackson said, “but this just in: Steph Curry is not Michael Jordan.” He’s not my Michael Jordan. He’s not anybody’s Michael Jordan. I love him to death and he’s a heck of a basketball player. At the end of the day, Michael Jordan is 6-7, freak athlete, tremendous strength, cat-like quickness, the ability to maneuver, get to his spots and, in spite of great defense, shoot over them.
“Steph Curry is being trapped by a 7-foot freak athlete in [DeAndre] Jordan or a 6-10 freak athlete in Blake [Griffin] along with a big-time defender at the point guard position in Paul and whoever. There are times he’s going to be aggressive. Then there are times he’s going to look to make plays.”
Curry had more turnovers (eight) than made shots (five) during the Warriors’ loss in Game 5, continuing his uneven play in a series in which he has made four or fewer three-pointers in five games after making two of eight shots beyond the arc Thursday.
Ultimately, Curry went the distance. Paul’s body kept him from crossing the finish line a winner.
Twitter: @latbbolchCopyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times