Chris Paul doesn’t want to be No. 3.
The elite point guard of the Los Angeles Clippers puffed out his chest a little further on Monday night in a bold fourth-quarter finish that culminated with a last-second, how-did-he-do-that winning basket against the Memphis Grizzlies.
Don’t hand the West over to Durant’s Oklahoma City Thunder just yet; that other guy just doled out a powerful warning.
"Hey world, I’m Chris Paul, and maybe it’s my turn."
Paul's masterpiece—a running, one-handed jumper that came amidst gridlock—sank the Grizzlies in the final seconds of Game 2 and easily became the greatest early highlight of this postseason.
Paul’s drive past Tony Allen and shot that somehow sank over Darrell Arthur with 0.1 seconds remaining revealed the clutch abilities of a guy who hasn’t had much opportunity to deliver on the grand stage of the playoffs.
The scene in Los Angeles was a perfect reminder that the Clippers, the No. 4 seed in the West, are a talented, deep squad led by the game’s best point guard—even if he’s only in the tier of third-best players.
The Clippers are dangerous and they may be heading to the NBA Finals.
Sure, it’s a tiny sample size and prognostication after only two home playoff games is risky. But Los Angeles has won nine consecutive games when you include the seven wins in a row to end the regular season.
So far, Paul is adorned in full-on superhero costume, averaging 23.5 points on 57.1-percent shooting and 8.0 assists and 1.5 steals through the first two games of this postseason.
And he isn’t alone.
Don’t lose sight of the not-as-Big Three in the West: Paul, Blake Griffin and Jamal Crawford.
Griffin flipped the switch and wreaked havoc on Monday, finishing with 21 points on 50-percent shooting. He also tallied eight rebounds and four assists.
In the first two wins, Crawford is averaging 14.0 points on 50.0-percent shooting, just a snapshot of what he’s been doing off the bench for Los Angeles all season.
The additional sprinkled-in talent of Eric Bledsoe and the valuable minutes of Chauncey Billups create a threatening backcourt situation for Los Angeles. DeAndre Jordan helps fill the lane and threatens Lob City highlights, while Caron Butler and Matt Barnes are both capable of hitting big shots on the wings.
Paul is the best point guard in the league and he has plenty of goods surrounding him, maybe as much as any superstar out there not named LeBron.
So the question is: Can Paul’s talent first rise above the Grizzlies and then rise above Durant in the Western Conference Semifinals?
Paul still has a lot to prove.
He has been incredible in his 36 career postseason games, averaging 20.7 points, 10.0 assists, 5.1 rebounds and displaying his signature pesky defense. He distributes and leads an offense better than any point guard, but he's also an elite scorer when it fits the rhythm of the Clippers’ offense.
But while he's been successful as an individual, he has never made it past the second round of the postseason.
The game's greats are only great if they can win when it matters most. So far, his numbers and intensity on the floor only mean something if they inspire team victories toward a title.
To this point in his career, Paul is capped at regular-season success.
But this could be the mighty pivot of Paul, the postseason run that transforms his personal narrative.
Paul doesn’t want to be part of the crowd sitting at home during the Finals looking in at No. 1 and No. 2.
He and the Clippers are ready to shove ahead with the same crashing presence as their patented Lob City highlights.