There was still nearly a full quarter to play when Chris Paul bent over and planted his hands on his legs, lingering for several seconds during the early portion of a timeout, taking every moment he could to relax.
He spent the game’s final 11 minutes leaving everyone else breathless.
The Clippers’ point guard flung passes, drove for layups and rose for jumpers, becoming the foil once again for the San Antonio Spurs on the same court where he had ended their season nine months ago in the playoffs.
Paul carried the severely short-handed Clippers to a 105-86 victory over the Spurs on Thursday night at Staples Center while scoring 26 of his 28 points in the second half, 15 in the fourth quarter.
Paul was cheered wildly after checking out with 2 minutes 7 seconds left, the Clippers having needed each of his 12 assists and five rebounds in 37 minutes. Paul played all but 3:54 of the second half.
“This is too much,” Clippers Coach Doc Rivers said of Paul’s minutes. “I mean, we can’t keep doing this.”
The Clippers (36-18) had piled up wins in the absence of injured star forward Blake Griffin, but they had not beaten one of the top three teams in the Western Conference until Thursday in their first game after the All-Star break.
J.J. Redick scored 12 of his 17 points in the third quarter for the Clippers, whose 20-point lead was shaved to five early in the fourth quarter before Paul threw a cross-court pass to Jamal Crawford for a three-pointer, drove for a layup and made a jumper over former teammate David West. He added three free throws, a three-pointer and a driving layup.
Griffin and assistant equipment manager Matias Testi were back with the team for the first time since Griffin punched Testi last month at a Toronto restaurant, leaving Testi with a swollen face and Griffin with a broken right hand. Griffin sat next to his teammates on the bench, with Testi seated behind him several seats over.
The Clippers’ official Twitter feed sent out a picture of Griffin slapping hands with Testi in the first quarter with "#Family.”
Tony Parker had 14 points for San Antonio, which looked out of sorts without All-Star forward
Kawhi Leonard (calf tightness). The Spurs (45-9) made only four of 17 three-pointers.
The Clippers were woefully thin at point guard with Pablo Prigioni sidelined by a viral illness, joining Austin Rivers (broken hand) on the bench.
“I tried to sign Sam today,” joked Clippers assistant coach Mike Woodson, referring to fellow assistant Sam Cassell.
Woodson addressed the media before the game because Doc Rivers was among a contingent of players and coaches from the Clippers and Spurs still en route from the funeral.
Spurs Coach Greg Popovich returned in time for his pregame media availability but did not want to discuss the difficult circumstances.
“This isn’t TMZ or the Crazy Channel,” Popovich said. “Just basketball.”
Clippers center DeAndre Jordan (6) forces Spurs forward Rasual Butler into an awkward shot during the second half Thursday night at Staples Center.(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)
Clippers guard Chris Paul drives to the basket against Spurs guard Danny Green (14) and forward David West (30) in the fourth quarter.(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)
Clippers forward Wesley Johnson forces a turnover by Spurs guard Jonathon Simmons during the second half.(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)
Clippers center DeAndre Jordan tries to dunk over Spurs guard Danny Green, but the ball caught the rim and spun out late in the game.(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)
Clippers assistant equipment manager Matias Testi stands at the ready behind the bench as forward Blake Griffin watches from the sideline during the game Thursday night against the Spurs.(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)
Spurs forward Kyle Anderson and Clippers guard Jamal Crawford reach for a loose ball during the first half Thursday night at Staples Center.(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)
Spurs forward Kyle Anderson comes up with a loose ball during a tussle with Clippers guard Jamal Crawford in the first half of a game on Feb. 18(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)
Clippers center DeAndre Jordan (6) dunks over Spurs forward LaMarcus Aldridge during the first half Thursday night at Staples Center.(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)
Injured Clippers Austin Rivers, left, and Blake Griffin chat on the bench during the game against the Spurs on Thursday night at Staples Center.(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)
Clippers guard Chris Paul drives to the basket against Spurs forward Tim Duncan during the first half.(Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)
Spurs guard Patty Mills hits Clippers guard Chris Paul in the face while passing the ball during the first half.(Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)
Doc Rivers said he went into the funeral not knowing whether his team had completed a trade, having turned off his phone after giving General Manager Dave Wohl the go-ahead to try to complete a deal. When the service ended, Rivers turned on his phone and learned the Clippers had traded Lance Stephenson for Memphis’ Jeff Green.
Rivers said he envisioned using Green in both forward spots.
“I really wanted more length,” Rivers said. “We need to get longer, more athletic and [improve] our shooting and I think with Jeff we did all three things.”
Follow Ben Bolch on Twitter: @latbbolch