So, I'm going to preface this by saying that this piece is going to be bit of a return for me.. These days, I try to write fairly objectively, or at the very least I try to contain my emotions a bit when I'm in "contributor mode". . My early pieces in particular were (politely) criticized by some for being prone to histrionics, and not particularly well-versed in factual takes and strong analysis. Honestly, it's been a while since I've written anything that could theoretically go into a writing portfolio that was pure, undiluted SF. But thanks to that game last night, I've been inspired to do so after a long period of not being inspired whatsoever,. I'm going to warn anyone reading this right now: if you're the type to dislike sportswriting that isn't supported by statistics or detailed analysis of X's and O's, you might want to look elsewhere on this one. Don't get me wrong, that's fine, and much of my work on BSD is more in that vein, and that preference is fine, it's just that this piece isn't going to be your cup of tea.
For those who didn't see it, Game 5 was a pivotal game that featured, in the last 47 seconds, questionable officiating (which I'll avoid discussing here), two turnovers by the usually sure-handed Chris Paul, as well as Chris fouling Russell Westbrook on the would-be game winning three. Westbrook made all three free throws for the final points of the game en route to a one point victory for the Thunder. Some are accusing CP3 of being a "choke artist", others are blaming the officials, but pretty much everyone is scratching their heads. Much was made of the fact that CP3 looked more defeated in his post-game presser than he ever had. Paul himself said that it was "probably the toughest thing he's ever been through, basketball-wise." I don't know Chris Paul personally. I know people who do, and I know people who played with Chris, and even some who I'd wager know him quite well, since the Wake Forest family is a small, tight-knit one. But I do feel I know Chris as a basketball player and a competitor. I'd argue Chris might very well be the most competitive player in the entire league, sometimes to his detriment. Notice I didn't necessarily say biggest, or strongest, or fastest, or best, or even most skilled, though he's probably high on the list in most of those categories sans the first. I said the most competitive.
I will freely admit I'm guilty of saying last night that I didn't think the Clippers would win Game 6 in LA. I have since changed my opinion. Not only did the Clippers nearly win the last game through a lot of adversity. Not only has this series been extremely tight in every game except for the first (which was Clipper domination in OKC). Even putting all that aside, Chris Paul had perhaps the worst night of his competitive life. If I know Chris Paul whatsoever, that's sticking in his craw. While he was perhaps more despondent last night than we've ever seen him, I doubt his spirit will be so easily broken. This is the same guy who was offered a walk-on spot at the University of North Carolina for a year while they waited for a scholarship to open up, and rather than accept that, he decided to go to Wake Forest instead and torch UNC for two years. This is the guy who, in his seventh college game ever, helped will Wake Forest to a win over UNC in Chapel Hill in triple overtime with an 18 point, four rebound, eight assist effort. This is a guy who had 26 points, six rebounds, eight assists, and five steals in a victory over eventual national champion UNC his sophomore year. Perhaps this wasn't all thanks to the chip on his shoulder, but I'd wager it contributed. This is a guy who scored 61 points in a game in high school to honor his murdered grandfather. 61 points, born from a desire to make a statement.
When CP3 left, I honestly wondered if he'd ever be forgiven. The anger was so strong, it was difficult to imagine. Many wondered if the program would ever recover, and while that's still a question, it's definitely seen rock bottom, and there's reason to hope that the rise from the ashes will occur sooner than later. At this point, for this series anyway, the Clippers have also seen rock bottom. I don't think Game 6 will be just a game for Chris Paul and his teammates, I think it will be a statement. A statement that CP3 and The Clippers are above any uncharacteristic mistake or controversy. I won't be so bold as to predict a series win for the Clips, but it's not over, and I think Chris Paul will make it a mission to redeem himself in Game 6.
Chris Paul can't do it alone, nor do I think the Clippers can win without Chris Paul. I can say this much for sure, though. Chris Paul almost certainly hasn't given up, so why should I?