It looked like it was going to be different this year. Chris Paul was on the verge of his first ever Western Conference Finals appearance. We could hopefully retire the lazy narratives about Paul being a playoff choker who couldn’t deliver when it mattered most.
Up 3-1 over the Houston Rockets in a second-round series the Clippers reached thanks to Paul (while hurt) hitting a crazy game-winner in Game 7 against the defending champion San Antonio Spurs, that first Western Conference Finals trip was inevitable.
Only it wasn’t.
In simply stunning fashion, Paul and the Clippers became just the ninth team in NBA history to blow a 3-1 series lead, capping off an epic collapse with a 113-100 Game 7 loss on Sunday. Just like that, that first Western Conference Finals appearance was wrestled from Paul’s grasp, and the Clippers’ grasp as well. It was made even worse by the fact that Los Angeles led Game 6 on its home floor by 19 points in the third quarter.
And with this latest disappointment, there are sure to be plenty of scorching hot takes about Paul’s inability to win in the playoffs.
First off, Paul absolutely deserves to take some of the blame for this collapse. As the team’s best player, he must take some responsibility. But how much should he take, really?
Playing at less than 100 percent, Paul averaged 26.3 points and 10.3 assists over the final three games of the series. That came on nearly 51 percent shooting. He had 26 points, 10 assists, five rebounds and four steals in Game 7. The guy left it all out on the floor, and it simply wasn’t enough against a Rockets team that deserves a ton of credit for coming back from the dead.
It’s more than fair to point the finger at Paul for playing a part in the epic Game 6 collapse. He shot just 2-of-7 from the field in the fourth quarter and didn’t record a single assist as the offense went stagnant. The Clippers went nearly six minutes without a point, and that just can’t happen when you’re trying to close out a series.
But when you look at the big picture, there were much larger problems than Paul, and they were problems people had with the Clippers at the very start of the season. An awful bench put a huge burden on the starters, which led to some fatigue in these last few games. The lack of depth on the wing showed big time when Matt Barnes became largely useless, Jamal Crawford kept throwing up bricks, J.J. Redick inexplicably started missing (fatigue?) and Austin Rivers turned back into a pumpkin. The lack of the depth in the frontcourt showed with Glen Davis offering little and Spencer Hawes playing awful defense. Doc Rivers may be a good coach, but the job he has done as team president in terms of personnel moves has left a lot to be desired.
Mix all of this into a pot and add some bad luck (Josh Smith all of a sudden shooting flames from three), and you have yet another CP3 disappointment that’ll be hard to get over:
Paul will have more opportunities to get to the West Finals, because he and Griffin remain one of the most talented duos in the league. The Clippers will surely try and bring DeAndre Jordan back, and Redick is a keeper at 2-guard.
However, these past few years have shown how difficult it is to advance deep in the playoffs in the stacked Western Conference with basically non-existent depth. Even with that lack of depth, the Clippers still should have gone to the West Finals, and that’s a testament to the greatness of Paul, Griffin and Jordan.
In the end, Chris Paul must take some responsibility for this debacle. But hopefully people recognize the real problems on the Clippers and not perpetuate the unfair narrative that CP3 is a choke artist, because it’s simply not the case.