Chris Paul always plays with a tight scowl. This was something different, an intensity in his eyes that his teammates recognized immediately.
"If you don't know him, it's a little scary," Clippers shooting guard J.J. Redick said. "Fiery is probably the best word."
Fiery. Passionate. Focused. They all worked to describe the way Paul played in the third quarter Monday night at American Airlines Center.
Coming off a foul-plagued first half, Paul outscored the Dallas Mavericks by himself in the third quarter, part of an onslaught that carried the Clippers to a 109-90 victory.
Paul's 18 points in the quarter were two more than the Mavericks could manage. He made eight of nine shots in the quarter to go with three steals and two assists and finished the game with 27 points and seven assists.
Clippers center DeAndre Jordan scored a season-high 23 points and snagged 20 rebounds in a more low-key return to the city he spurned in free agency last summer compared to the earsplitting cascade of boos that he faced here in November. Redick scored 16 of his 22 points in the first half and Jamal Crawford finished with 15 points off the bench.
The Clippers could tell Paul's big quarter was coming after he made a floating jumper and a turnaround fadeaway on the team's first two possessions of the second half.
"He zones out," Crawford said. "He's lost in the game. You can totally see it."
Paul also helped spark a defense that held the Mavericks to 38 points in the second half.
The Mavericks' extended scoring drought coincided with a deluge of Clippers baskets as they went on a 45-12 run after trailing, 65-64, with 4:53 left in the third quarter.
"Our defense in the second half was unbelievable," Clippers Coach Doc Rivers said.
It was a reappearance of the defense that has largely carried the Clippers in the absence of injured star forward Blake Griffin before vanishing late in a loss to the Atlanta Hawks on Saturday night at Staples Center.
"That's why our coaches are so hard on us, because they see us have stretches of defending like this," Paul said. "I think for us, all we've got to do is commit to doing it every night and every possession and see what happens."
Dirk Nowitzki scored 22 points for the Mavericks, who made only four of 25 shots (16%) from three-point range.
"This one sucks," said Dallas guard Wesley Matthews, who missed all six of his shots and finished with two points thanks to a pair of free throws.
Paul sat out the final 5:48 of the second quarter after being called for his third foul. It wasn't the worst thing that could have happened.
"I don't want to say that played into it, but I was well-rested, you know what I mean?" said Paul, who played the entire third quarter. "I had enough energy."
There was another good sign for the Clippers (41-21) in the locker room afterward: some lighthearted ribbing between Jordan and Matias Testi, the assistant team equipment manager whom Griffin had punched in late January at a Toronto restaurant.
Jordan mimicked Testi with a whiny voice and Testi joked that he would never go out to dinner with Jordan again.
It seemed like old, happy times for the Clippers.