Chris Paul, thy name is Clutch.
Wednesday night's game against the Minnesota Timberwolves was as dry as saltine crackers for three quarters. Then, suddenly, CP3 decided to make it rain in the fourth.
After scoring four points on 2-of-9 shooting in the first 36 minutes by Paul, his Los Angeles Clippers led by just four heading into the final quarter in Minneapolis.
Neither team could pull away from the other, and the fourth quarter looked like a moment in need of seizing. Paul went 6-of-7 for 16 in the final 12 (including 12 straight points for the Clips in the final four minutes) and the Clippers won, 102-98.
By recording his 12th straight double-double to start the season (20 PTS, 11 AST, 6 REB, 4 STL), CP3 broke a record previously held by legendary point guard Magic Johnson.
And just like that, the record goes down. Congrats to @CP3 for having 10 pts & 10 ast in 12 straight games to start the season!— Cliff Paul (@CliffPaul) November 21, 2013
"It's huge man. Magic is a mentor of mine, somebody I look up to," Paul said of breaking the record, per the Associated Press. "His basketball production was unbelievable so [to] be mentioned in anything with him is huge and an honor."
His late scoring explosion sealed the record. But perhaps even more telling than the points: He had 10 assists in the first three quarters compared to just one in the fourth. Paul demonstrated something that point guards around the league should take note of. At that position, the shoot-first mentality should only be the last resort.
Such was the case for Paul Wednesday. He managed the game and focused on setting up others for as long as he could against the Wolves. After (and only after) he realized that his scoring might be required to get the win, Paul became a shoot-first point guard.
Therein lies the singularity of his clutch play as opposed to others'. Paul can control or take over a game down the stretch with his passing or with his scoring.
Perhaps the only other player who can compare in that regard is LeBron James. But even King James doesn't seem to be able to shift from one to the other as fluidly as CP3.
When he was a member of the Cavs, many were quick to judge LeBron for being too passive in the clutch—for being too willing to defer. He seems to have responded as a member of the Miami Heat by typically assuming the responsibility in big-shot situations. And he's been effective in doing so.
But with Paul, it changes from game to game. How he takes over is contingent on the game's particular situation. In four of L.A.'s eight wins, he's tallied at least three dimes in the final period. In those cases, he controlled down the stretch as a facilitator.
And Wednesday night's game was yet another example of how he can take over as a scorer as well. Said Paul after the win: "Fourth quarter is winning time and we're all competitive, but as the leader of the team, me and Blake, we know that's when it's time to win."
He's responded to "winning time" all season, as he's averaging 6.8 points in the fourth quarter. That's more than one-third of his scoring average of 19.5.
Chris Paul is here to score fourth quarter points and chew bubblegum and he's all out of bubblegum. And it's the fourth quarter.— Chris Ryan (@ChrisRyan77) November 21, 2013
This isn't new, of course. Wrote Grantland's Zach Lowe in April, explaining how dominant Paul was in big moments in the 2012-13 season:
Paul did this to the Grizzlies in the 2012 playoffs, and this regular season he shot 16-of-33 (48.5 percent) in the last three minutes of games in which the scoring margin was three points or less. Among 66 players who attempted at least 20 such shots, only nine shot a better percentage than Paul, and only one of those (Al Jefferson) did so on as many attempts.
This season, Paul's providing even more evidence that he's among the very best when a game is on the line, just perhaps not the best. There's obviously still an argument to be made for LeBron.
But Paul seizes the big moments in a more dynamic fashion than anyone—adjusting and improvising on the fly like a jazz musician. Crescendoing in the fourth quarter unlike anyone else in the NBA.
For 140-character pearls of wisdom from Bleacher Report's Andy Bailey, follow him on Twitter: @AndrewDBailey.