OKLAHOMA CITY — The media had formed a semi-circle around an exhausted-looking Chris Paul sitting inside the Clippers' locker room, the group waiting for the All-Star guard to explain how he was able to be the ultimate closer again.
Paul, with a towel wrapped around his waist, looked up at the gathering and uttered, "Whew! I'm tired."
He had just scored nine of the last 11 Clippers points, 31 all total, having carried his team to a 100-98 victory over the host Oklahoma City Thunder on Wednesday night.
He scored the game-winning shot on a layup with 8.8 seconds left, played 36 minutes 48 seconds, turned the ball over just once, handed out four assists and grabbed six rebounds — good reasons for Paul to be tired.
And after all he had done, the Clippers didn't escape until Kevin Durant (22 points) missed a potential game-winning three-pointer and after Blake Griffin (16 points, 12 rebounds, seven assists) tipped the rebound away as time expired.
"This was a big game for us, especially after losing in Memphis the way we did," Paul said. "It's one of those games you just can't lose."
Because the Clippers bounced back after losing in Memphis on Monday night, they maintained a half a game lead over the Grizzlies for the fourth seeding in the Western Conference.
And so much of this was because of the way Paul took charge of the game after it was tied, 89-89.
That's when Paul went on his run of scoring nine of the last 11 points.
"He has that competitive edge about everything," Coach Vinny Del Negro said. "There's a play that shows how competitive and tough he is when he split a defender, threw the ball off the glass and then tipped it in.
"That was a big tip-in for us. But his demeanor and his attitude and his approach obviously rubs off on guys. And tonight he was locked in."
Paul's three-pointers gave the Clippers a 92-89 lead.
His floater gave the Clippers a 94-89 lead.
The tip-in of his missed shot gave the Clippers a 98-93 lead. He had split two defenders, shot the ball, missed, but was the first to jump for the ball, scoring with 1:19 left.
"I meant to make it, but I knew I was going to miss it," Paul said. "I didn't see nobody else up there so I just hung up there and I got it. That was a big play, too."
But the Thunder responded with a dunk from Serge Ibaka and a three-pointer by Durant that tied the score, 98-98.
"When Kevin Durant hit that three, we were all so mad," Paul said. "We just stayed together. I was [upset]. I was going nuts, but I knew we still had the ball. Those are the type of games we've lost this season."
Paul wouldn't let the Clippers lose, looking determined on the final play.
He drove around center Kendrick Perkins, who had made the switch, and past Ibaka and Russell Westbrook for the game winner.
"We just can't be satisfied with losing," Paul said. "In those same situations, you've just got to leave it all out there on the floor. I'm going to miss some, I'm going to make some. But ... when I go out and play, I'm always going to compete."