There seems to be a point in every Clippers game when Chris Paul's calls for the ball get louder, when his dribbles get harder, when his legs pump a bit faster as he bounces up and down the court.
This usually happens in the last few minutes. It is Paul's explicit way of taking responsibility of the game's outcome. The Clippers (13-2) started the season by often blowing teams out, but in their last three outings have won tightly-contested games. Paul was instrumental in their 123-115 win over the Raptors on Monday, tying a team-high with 26 points and dishing out 12 assists.
But his biggest contributions came down the stretch when he scored six points in 31 seconds. First he nailed a three from the left wing. Next he dribbled coast-to-coast, drew a foul in the paint and banked in an off-balance layup. Before finishing the three-point play, he stumbled into the corner and yelled "And one!" as the Staples Center crowd rose around him.
The sequence stretched the Clippers' lead to 12 and they never looked back.
"He's made not only me but our team so much better," Clippers center DeAndre Jordan said of how important Paul has been late in games. "Those pressure situations like that, just to get us a bucket or get us in the penalty and kind of settle things down a little bit when it's kind of crazy."
After the Clippers' 111-107 loss to the Grizzlies last Wednesday, Paul shouldered the blame for his team's sloppy fourth-quarter play. The Clippers fought back into the game but then gave it back to Memphis with poor shot selection, defensive lapses and even a technical foul.
Paul takes as much pride in organizing the Clippers as he does directly affecting the score.
"As a point guard it's almost like being a quarterback and doing a two-minute drill or something like that," Paul said after the loss to the Grizzlies. "So when you get in those end-of-game situations you can figure out a way to win."
Since then, the Clippers' fourth-quarter performance has been good enough in the past three games.
"Still got to be better," Paul said after the Toronto win.
Hitting the road
The Clippers, who have a perfect 6-0 road record, depart on a grueling trip with six games in 10 days, beginning Wednesday in Dallas. Their trip concludes with a back-to-back, against the defending champion Cavaliers in Cleveland on Dec. 1, then in New Orleans on Dec. 2.
The Clippers have not had a full practice in a few weeks now, which is a product of travel days, back-to-backs and having a roster full of veterans.
Clippers shooting guard J.J. Redick called this the hardest stretch he can remember in his 10-year career. But there are some benefits to hitting the road. Redick is the father of two and has trouble sleeping in at home, and a long road trip promises a handful of sleep-filled nights in quiet hotel rooms.
"My wife hates me right now," Redick said, smiling. "There's so much resentment in my house."