Chris Paul Validates Status as NBA's Best Point Guard with Monster Game
His stat line alone would've been enough to validate his positional throne, if only for a night. By the time Paul checked out of the game late in the fourth quarter, he'd already tallied 42 points (one shy of his career high), 15 assists and six steals in 37 minutes.
According to the Elias Sports Bureau (via SportsCenter), he's the first player to log at least 40 points, 15 assists and five steals in a single game since 1973-74—when steals first became an official stat.
Chris Paul is first player w/ 40 Pts, 15 Ast & 5 Stl in one game since steals were 1st recorded in 1973-74 season (via @EliasSports).— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) November 1, 2013
But the numbers alone don't tell the whole story. It's how CP3 racked 'em up that bolsters his case among the best floor generals in the game.
His thieving hands spearheaded a Clippers defense, organized by new head coach Doc Rivers, that forced a whopping 24 turnovers, 11 from Stephen Curry, Paul's counterpart for Golden State.
Paul turned a slew of those steals into near-instant assists on the fast break formerly (and still) known as Lob City. During one particular stretch in the third quarter, Paul found Blake Griffin for alley-oops on three straight possessions, two of which began with thefts forced by CP3's sneaky fingers.
And while Curry did his best to keep Golden State in the game with his hot shooting (38 points, 9-of-14 from three) when he wasn't busy losing the ball, Paul always seemed to have an answer of his own. He hit floaters in the lane, drained jumpers in the mid-range and knocked down a pair of threes for good measure.
Moreover, Paul put on a basket-attacking and contact-drawing clinic. He finished the evening with 17 free-throw attempts, 16 of which he put through.
As opposed to Curry, who got to the line once...on a four-point play.
Curry isn't Paul's only competition at the position, though. That distinction also belongs to (among others) Tony Parker, who guided the San Antonio Spurs to the NBA Finals last season; Derrick Rose, who's just now delving into his comeback; Russell Westbrook, who will be embarking upon his own soon; and Rajon Rondo, whose return remains weeks (if not months) away.
The seas, it seems, have parted. Paul, though, is doing his part to not only cross through to his spot, but do so decisively.
Still, even he would likely admit that eye-popping regular-season stats don't really mean that much when it comes to cementing his primacy within the sport. That much was clear after L.A.'s victory, when TNT sideline stalwart Craig Sager asked Paul whether he was aware he'd come so close to eclipsing his personal best in points, to which the superstar replied with a mix of obliviousness and apathy.
He doesn't care about the individual achievements and accolades. All he's concerned with is winning games and leading the Clips to the Promised Land.
After all, that's the ultimate stick by which point guards are meant to be measured, isn't it? Their reputations aren't staked quite as closely to their win-loss records as, say, those of NFL quarterbacks, but the comparison isn't all that far off. The best point guards are great leaders and, in basketball, great leaders win.
Paul has done his fair share of that during the regular season. He carried the Clips to a franchise-record 56 wins and their first-ever Pacific Division title in 2012-13. Five years prior, he pulled off a similar feat with the then-New Orleans Hornets: 56 wins and a division crown, both franchise firsts.
But neither of those seasons ended with championship parades. Not even close.
In 2007-08, Paul's Hornets staked themselves to a 3-2 series lead against the Spurs before flaming out of the second round in seven games. This past spring, CP3 lifted his Clips to a seemingly insurmountable 2-0 lead against the Memphis Grizzlies in the first round.
It was a lead that turned out to be anything but that as the Grizzlies ground L.A. into a pulp over the next four games.
To that end, Paul has plenty left to prove. He's done well to turn his teams around upon arrival, but he has yet to taste the conference finals. He's solidified the Clippers as a potential contender in the West, but he couldn't quite catapult his squad to primacy in its own city, with a loss to the depleted Los Angeles Lakers in the season opener.
Indeed, Paul's image will be a decorative staple at the Staples Center whenever the Clippers own the floor for home games. But his value to the franchise and his place among his peers won't be fully realized unless/until the banner he and the Clippers hang is one that unequivocally deserves placement alongside those 16 purple-and-gold flags in the rafters.
Whatever Paul's rank among the league's elite may be, it won't matter all that much without a ring to go with it.
Is Chris Paul the best point guard in the NBA?
Surely, he'd concur. He can't so much as sniff Tony Parker's three championships or even Rajon Rondo's one. Heck, Paul can't count himself among former conference finalists like Rose and Deron Williams.
There's a ton of work to be done before the Clippers reach that point—or, rather, before Paul has another chance to take them there. They have their own issues to sort out, particularly up front, where Ryan Hollins (four minutes) and Byron Mullens (four missed threes) stand as the only bigs to back up Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan.
And that's before you get into the depth and quality of their competition in the Western Conference, between the Spurs, the Oklahoma City Thunder, the Houston Rockets, the Memphis Grizzlies and, in time, the Warriors.
If nothing else, Paul has to wait another five-and-a-half months, until the playoffs roll around and every game means everything again.
Right now, there's not much more Chris Paul can do other than shine during whatever games into which he's dropped. We can rag on his subpar postseason record, but there's nothing he can do to change that until April rolls around.
In the meantime, we might as well enjoy his every attempt to strengthen the Clippers' resolve as a championship hopeful, even more so if it means relishing transcendent point guard play like that which Paul put on display on Halloween.
Where do you think CP3 ranks among the best point guards in the NBA? Let me know on Twitter!
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