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T.J. SIMERS

Chris Paul again rises to the occasion for Clippers

How do you not root for the runt of the litter going Mighty Mouse on everyone to win the day? Paul plays so much bigger than everyone else in a game that features giants.

May 07, 2012|T.J. Simers

The theme all season long has been "Rise," as in lob the ball high in the air and watch Blake Griffin slam it home.

As in rise behind Chris Paul and lift a franchise.

Only the team jumped the gun a little and passed out red T-shirts for Game 4 that read, "Risen."

It's Monday afternoon, a few hours before Game 4 for the Clippers and I'm on the telephone with C.J. Paul.

Anyone who goes by their initials has to be a good guy.

C.J. is Chris Paul's big brother by two years, his business manager and his best friend.

"I think my parents sleep better at night because they know we're always together," C.J. says.

I'm asking C.J. what it is like to sit in Staples Center and watch his kid brother decide the Clippers' fate, and he says he's not sitting.

"I'm on my feet yelling all the time," he says, "and going crazy."

"Were you the guy standing in the front row Saturday who wouldn't sit down no matter how loudly I yelled for you to sit down?'' I ask.

"That would be me,'' C.J. says, and really, how does anyone watch Chris Paul play and not jump to their feet?

Yeah, Kobe Bryant is just the greatest and has been forever. And this is a Lakers' town, so Chris Paul will probably be a grandfather before there is any chance of the Clippers being mentioned in the same sentence as the Lakers.

But how do you not root for the runt of the litter going Mighty Mouse on everyone to win the day?

The other night he's roaring mad at Memphis' Marc Gasol, who is a foot taller and built like a bulldozer. Paul is so upset and competitive he yanked teammate Nick Young off the free-throw line so he could stand beside Gasol.

Later he goes to the Clippers' bench and the Memphis fans are yelling, "Sit down, you little leprechaun."

"Does that mean I'm lucky?" he says later with a grin.

"No, it means you're a shrimp," I tell him.

"I stand tall in my family," he fires back.

More than that, he plays so much bigger than everyone else in a game that features giants.

"When he was 8 or 9, he played football and always hit the hardest,'' says C.J. "He played middle linebacker and fullback. There's just something about him; he refuses to be ordinary.''

Paul turned 27 on Sunday, and Monday night against Memphis he's playing in his 27th career playoff game. He had been averaging 22 points, 10.9 assists and 5.1 rebounds in postseason play when the best are supposed to play their best.

He's going to need to at least match those numbers in Game 4 as the Clippers fall behind early, 12-2. The Clippers apparently didn't get the message, the overhead scoreboard screaming, "Tonight everything counts!"

But it is Memphis flashing the early energy until Tony Allen makes the mistake of slapping Caron Butler's broken finger.

Butler grips his hand in pain, throws a nasty stare Allen's way and then single-handedly brings the Clippers back with 11 first-quarter points. Game on.

Staples Center is flush again with red except for the rich folk sitting in courtside seats. Apparently they don't want to ever be in the red.

C.J. is in his "Risen" red T-shirt and on his feet when his brother goes in for a driving layup to put the Clippers up by eight. Memphis calls a timeout and Coach Lionel Hollins tells a TNT broadcaster Paul does a good job flopping.

The Grizzlies and their fans have whined that the Clippers flop too much; so far the biggest flops in this series have been the Grizzlies.

The Clippers are still the Clippers, of course, if they don't have Paul. And by now, everyone would be home playing golf.

But no way Paul wants to play golf, "because I'm better than he is,'' explains C.J. And C.J. knows his brother will spend the rest of the off-season trying to beat him.

"As Chris said at his first press conference when he came here, 'I don't want to win; I have to win,'" says C.J. "I know. We used to play basketball and he would bite and scratch to beat me. Yes, bite."

The Clippers have a six-point lead at the half as Paul has 11 points and Griffin, having survived a Zach Randolph mugging, has 16. (The other day I told Griffin I needed four Advil to go to sleep; he said he needed 16. I wonder whether he's joking.)

Griffin is taking blow after blow, so why is it the Grizzlies feel as if they are getting hammered?

Two quarters to go for the Clippers to go up 3-1, and Mo Williams looks as if he's playing for a new contract — in Memphis. He isn't playing with the same zip as his teammates and his mistakes have allowed the Grizzlies to take the lead with 9:31 to play.

And Paul is on the bench.

But something happens, maybe Williams remembering he's due back for another year with the Clippers. He starts to play for them.

And are you having fun yet?

It is 84-81 Clippers with 2:59 remaining, the Grizzlies trying not to remember how they have flopped in the fourth quarter in two of the first three games.

Paul has 17 points, seven assists and leads his team with nine rebounds. He will probably fly the team plane to Memphis as well.

"I hate it when the team loses," says C.J. "Everyone around Chris has to feel it. He's so much better when he wins."

Thirty-five seconds to go to rise to the moment, the game tied and the Clippers have the ball. Well, Paul has the ball and he scores on a layup. Clippers, 87-85.

Memphis ties it with a pair of free throws. Twenty seconds to play. Paul has the ball, slips and never gets the shot off.

Overtime. Is there any doubt who will settle this?

You guessed right.

t.j.simers@latimes.com

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