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BILL PLASCHKE

Despite blunder, the Clippers' Chris Paul is the NBA's MVP so far

Guard throws away a pass against San Antonio that leads to a Clippers overtime loss, but it doesn't diminish how indispensable he has been to the club.

February 18, 2012|Bill Plaschke
  • Clippers point guard Chris Paul is none too happy after flying into the courtside seats during the game against the Spurs on Saturday afternoon at Staples Center.
Clippers point guard Chris Paul is none too happy after flying into the courtside… (Michael Nelson / EPA )

An hour later, I still wanted to chant it.

An hour after Chris Paul stunned his giddy teammates and silenced the raucous Staples Center by literally throwing away a Clippers victory to the San Antonio Spurs on Saturday, I wanted to chant it louder than ever.

As I sift through the rubble of the Spurs' 103-100 overtime win, I'm still wondering, why won't more Clippers fans chant it?

"M-V-P … M-V-P … M-V-P.''

He didn't hear it at the free-throw line, and he won't be feeling it on the streets, but Paul has been the NBA's most valuable player in the first half of the season, and what happened Saturday confirmed that.

He was the hero. He was the goat. And then, he was the man.

Shortly after his fourth-quarter acrobatics were ruined when he threw the ball to the Spurs' Gary Neal, who drained a score-tying three-pointer in the final seconds of regulation, Paul shouldered one more burden.

He sat in front of his locker, giant bags of ice on each knee, and accepted the heat so his teammates and coach would not.

"I'm taking this loss,'' he said. "It's all on me.''

The Clippers had blown a 13-point lead, nearly everyone had disappeared down the stretch, Paul had scored 17 fourth-quarter points to keep them in it, but he wanted to talk only about his assist to the wrong guy.

"That's going to be on SportsCenter's top 10 dumbest plays of the week,'' he said.

The key mistake involved potential mistakes by several people, including Coach Vinny Del Negro and teammate Ryan Gomes, but Paul was only pointing the finger at one.

"We had the game won, it was over, and I blew it,'' he said.

That's how the world will see it. With 6.9 seconds remaining in regulation, the Clippers held a three-point lead and Paul was preparing to catch a routine inbounds pass from Gomes when wires were suddenly crossed.

Paul thought Gomes would throw him the ball in the backcourt, so he was running hard in that direction. Gomes, however, thought Paul wanted the ball in the front court, so he threw it to Paul when he was one step from the midcourt line.

Paul had no choice but to grab the pass, at which point he realized his momentum would carry him to the backcourt and cause a backcourt violation. So he tried to throw the ball away. But in doing so, he threw it into the hands of Neal, who took a couple of steps and nailed a three-pointer to tie the score.

"It was a crazy play, I don't know what happened there, honestly,'' the Spurs' Tim Duncan said. "We have been talking about it since the game ended, what happened and how crazy it was.''

What is crazy, perhaps, is Paul taking a blame that could have been shared, beginning with Gomes, who admitted he also blew it.

"It was a bad turnover on my part,'' he said. "I thought I could get it to him before he got to the backcourt, but I was wrong.''

Also to blame is Del Negro for even using Gomes to throw the pass in the first place. It was Gomes' first appearance in the game since late in the second quarter. The Staples Center temperature had been slowly dropping in preparation for the Saturday night hockey game. The guy was clearly cold. And the guy had failed in this situation before, coming off the bench to make a bad inbounds pass that nearly cost the Clippers a victory in Philadelphia on Feb. 10.

"He's been throwing our inbounds passes for two years,'' Del Negro said. "That's what he does.''

And what happened Saturday is what Chris Paul does. He carries the team on endless shoulders through eternal trials. He is the difference between mid-April and mid-June, between Clippers jinx and Clippers joy.

On Saturday he takes nine fourth-quarter shots, one less than the rest of the team, driving and falling and fighting kind of shots. He makes five of those shots, makes all six fourth-quarter free throws, the smallest man on the court finishing like a giant again only two days after scoring 13 fourth-quarter points in the team's comeback win against Portland.

He has carried the Clippers to the NBA elite with Chauncey Billups in a cast and Blake Griffin still finding himself and many of the others just hanging on for the ride.

"Today's story changed that quick, didn't it?'' he said to the pack of media members he generously welcomed to his locker Saturday afternoon. "You had it written differently, didn't you?''

Not me. Didn't change at all.

''M-V-P … M-V-P … M-V-P''

bill.plaschke@latimes.com

twitter.com/billplaschke

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