Chris Paul comes to praise his teammates and bury the 76ers
From Philadelphia — The last guy I’m going to write about is Chris Paul, because he’s already had his story.
So I go to the arena here early Friday to renew acquaintances with Elton Brand, someone who knew what it was like to be cheered as a Clipper before these new guys arrived in L.A.
He’s had it tough here. And it’s not good when you have it tough in Philadelphia because these people are mad they have to live in Philadelphia and ugly when you don’t help them escape by playing well.
“I know,” he says. “You’re going to forget me and write about Chris Paul now.”
Nice knowing you, Elton.
No way I do it for anyone else, but there is no happier ending than when the good guy finishes as the hero.
Now I realize we have Kobe Bryant in town, one of the game’s great closers. But we haven’t had the combination recently of great closer and terrific guy.
So, after making the winning shot to beat Philadelphia, 78-77, the first thing Paul says is: “What a great play by Blake Griffin to save my tail.”
That’s before he calls the biggest play of the game Caron Butler’s two-point follow-up moments after Butler comes off the bench, and then indicating the game ball should go to the rebounding terror Reggie Evans.
I’m trying to imagine a situation where Kobe makes the game-winning shot and then spends the first five minutes after the game talking about everyone else’s great plays.
Paul not only wins the game, but keeps the Clippers in position to have a chance to do so. They have no business winning this game. They’re not the same team since Chauncey Billups went down, and Vinny Del Negro is riding Paul like he’s afraid the commissioner will take him away if he doesn’t.
“He’s my security blanket,” says Del Negro. Every time the Clippers fall behind by a considerable amount, the call goes to Paul to return to the game.
But Paul wants to talk about Evans.
“You see our bench; it was going crazy every time Reggie got a rebound. I look up and the guy has like 10 or 11 rebounds off the bench. That’s just flat-out desire.
“Reggie is a funny guy. I told him he can be 40 or 50 years old and signing a contract and he can play on my team.”
But Evans does not score in this game, and it takes at least one more basket for the Clippers to win.
Here’s the situation: Clippers down by one, the clocking winding down, Paul with the ball and he tries to pass it to Griffin.
“I have no idea what I’m thinking,” says Paul. “I see Blake flash, and I’m thinking I don’t want to turn the ball over and get three seconds so I throw it between his legs.
“Thank you, Blake Griffin,” Paul says. “We don’t get a final shot if Blake doesn’t fight for the ball and get it out of there. It could have turned out really ugly, and I would have been beating myself up on the whole flight to Charlotte.”
Griffin says, “I see Chris looking at me and I’m thinking, ‘Oh no, he’s passing it to me,’ and it goes right between my legs.”
Griffin waves at the ball, then goes to the floor fighting for it, at one point sitting on his rump and giving serious thought to shooting it.
“I would if I thought I could have gotten up quick enough to get the rebound after I missed,” he says.
Instead he gets the ball to Kenyon Martin, who gives it back to Paul. This time Paul keeps the ball, and then hits a fall-away 15-footer. Easy shot.
“It is,” Paul says with a grin, “but I missed a few earlier off the back rim.”
There are still three seconds remaining, the 76ers inbounding the ball, and it’s Paul and Martin who combine to keep Philadelphia’s final shot from even finding the rim.
“Martin is so smart as a defender,” Paul says, never mentioning that he’s ready to take the final shot because he’s been thinking about it all day.
That’s why he’s on the court hours before the game working on his shot. He’s in the middle of a six-game trip, as exhausting as that can be, and he’s pushing himself to work some more.
When he’s finished practicing, he comes over to say the team will not lack intensity as it did in Cleveland two nights earlier. And he’s rather intense when he says so.
The Clippers do seem more intent on playing hard, but it’s not the same team without Billups. It’s getting nothing from DeAndre Jordan, and the verdict is out on Randy Foye as the starter opposite Paul.
Mo Williams is dealing with food poisoning, and for the record I was nowhere near him. Don’t know about Clippers management.
Williams recovers enough to score 14, but the Clippers are two for 19 from three-point range.
They need something good to happen, and what do you know, it’s true: Good things happen to good people.
OK, so Elton Brand also deserved to win.
But too bad.
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