Clippers point guard Chris Paul makes the go-ahead basket against the Memphis… (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles…)
Time never seems to run out on Chris Paul.
Seven, six, five …
He takes a pass from Jamal Crawford about five feet from half court and surveys the floor in front of him, the Clippers needing a basket with the score tied in the final seconds of Monday's playoff game against the Memphis Grizzlies.
Four, three …
He dribbles around Tony Allen and pauses once, then again, before continuing toward the basket.
Two, one …
He whirls past Allen, creating separation with a left forearm to the midsection, before elevating for a one-handed leaning jumper that banks off the glass and through the net with 0.1 of a second left.
It was game, and potentially series, for the Clippers after Paul's latest closing act provided a 93-91 victory at Staples Center in Game 2 of their Western Conference first-round series. The Clippers hold a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven series, which shifts to Memphis for Game 3 on Thursday.
Meanwhile, an equally compelling countdown continues for the Clippers and Paul, who becomes a free agent July 1.
Nothing that happens in the next few months, barring a run to the franchise's first NBA title in its 43-year existence, will be as momentous as Paul signing the five-year, $107.3-million contract this summer that would secure his future as a Clipper through the 2017-18 season.
Paul remaining a Clipper would turn glorious firsts such as this season's Pacific Division title and 56 victories into routine realities. It would also continue to give the Clippers' hallway rivals rug burn, the Lakers having dropped all four games in the series this season for the first time since the Clippers moved to L.A. in 1984.
And who knows? That sweet 16-0 edge the Lakers hold in NBA titles might not be so lopsided anymore. The Clippers are already the best team in the city, with a chance to be the best in the league.
Paul's value to the Clippers transcends his ability to win games, which is considerable as the NBA's best closer and the All-Star game's most valuable player. He is GQ cool yet community oriented and so family focused that his 3-year-old son Chris is allowed to turn the space around his locker into romper room after games.
He is the face of the franchise, and not just because those oversized Cliff Paul and Chris Paul heads are waved from behind the Staples Center baskets as a tribute to the separated-at-birth State Farm ads.
Last summer, Paul sold free agents Matt Barnes and Grant Hill on joining the Clippers, a prospect they might have laughed at only a few years earlier.
Perhaps most remarkably, Paul acts as if there's nowhere else he'd rather be, reinforcing the mantra that the Clippers were his preferred choice when he nearly became a Laker in December 2011 before Commissioner David Stern intervened with his infamous trade veto.
Clippers players were not made available to the media Tuesday, but in an interview earlier this season Paul sounded like someone who was genuinely happy to be here.
"All I can do is go from my experiences," he said. "Since Day One, since I've gotten there, it has been great."
That includes his time away from the court. The native North Carolinian has come to enjoy life as an Angeleno, an unexpected development.
"I love it," Paul said. "I was very skeptical about it initially because it's so far away from North Carolina, my home, born and raised. I love it, and the people of L.A. have been tremendous not only to me but to my family.
"My family comes out to L.A. and they say, 'Man, you really like it out here.' "
Paul has given no indication he is even considering signing with another team, which would entail leaving $27.6 million in guaranteed money on the table.
But Clippers fans shouldn't take any chances. The next time Paul steps to the free-throw line at Staples Center, they should dispense with the cliched "MVP!" chants.
This one has a better ring to it: "Five more years!"