The scowl that Chris Paul wears like part of his uniform vanished as he walked off the court Friday night.
The Clippers point guard exchanged quickie hugs with counterparts from the Memphis Grizzlies before pausing to smile for a photo with a courtside fan inside FedEx Forum.
It was quite unlike the scene four days earlier, when a visibly fatigued Paul bent over in frustration after committing a turnover in the final seconds of a loss to the Grizzlies.
Winning can change everything, as it did for Paul and the Clippers during a 97-79 victory over perhaps their most hated rival.
Paul vocalized his delight when, with a little more than four minutes left, he made a three-pointer and yelled “Oooh!” before the Clippers went on to end a two-game losing streak.
Paul finished with an all-around strong game, collecting 19 points and four rebounds. He said he was not trying to absolve himself from earlier in the week, when he called himself “a dummy” for his failure to get off a shot in the final seconds against the Grizzlies.
“I didn’t think about it one time during the game tonight,” Paul said.
There were more uplifting thoughts for a team that ended a seven-game home winning streak for the Grizzlies, who had won eight of their previous nine meetings with the Clippers.
The Clippers (38-21) held Memphis to 37.9% shooting and turned a game that was tied at halftime into a runaway with a 21-6 push to start the third quarter.
Jamal Crawford had 19 points off the bench and DeAndre Jordan added 15 points and 22 rebounds.
The fingerprints of almost every Clipper could be found on this victory. Reserve forward Glen Davis stripped the ball from Zach Randolph early in the fourth quarter, and forward Matt Barnes elevated to block a shot by Mike Conley.
Jordan even made five of eight free throws in the fourth quarter while being intentionally fouled.
“I think our guys are really starting to believe they’re as good as I’ve been saying they are all year,” Coach Doc Rivers said.
The Clippers are now 5-3 without Blake Griffin, who has been sidelined since undergoing surgery early this month. Of course, that’s not to say they want him to get comfortable resting.
“We need Blake. Don’t get it twisted,” Paul said. “We need him and we need him bad, but what it’s doing is giving everyone an opportunity to step up a little bit. I think what’s going to happen when Blake comes back, everyone is going to have a little bit more confidence. Then we’ll really get rolling.”
They were already steamrolling Memphis with the kind of grit-and-grind defense the Grizzlies like to inflict on their opponents, holding Marc Gasol to one point in the first half and 11 for the game.
Randolph had 20 points and 10 rebounds but did not find much support as Conley and Jeff Green combined to make only two of 17 shots.
“It wasn’t adjustments,” Paul said of the Clippers’ reversing their fortunes against the Grizzlies. “We just defended better and made a few more shots.”
So there wasn’t anything special said at halftime to spark the Clippers with the score tied?
“The only thing that happened at halftime was that I was playing one-on-one with Dahntay’s son,” Paul said, referring to Dahntay Jones. “He got me going.”