Here’s an excerpt from Kevin Arnovitz’s piece from Oklahoma City that’s up on the Daily Dime at ESPN.com. To read the full piece (and some sweet action from Charlie Widdoes), check out the Dime here.
Can you blame him?
Paul’s Los Angeles Clippers had clawed their way back from a double-digit deficit to take a precarious 3-point lead into the closing minute of the game on Wednesday night. Those delicate one-possession cushions must be cradled carefully, because wins over the Oklahoma City Thunder don’t just fall in your lap. Not with Durant on his home floor dwarfing over your platoon of undersized small forwards. You’ve seen the highlights. You know how that script ends when Durant is the protagonist.
Yet there it was — vintage Thunder, as Durant raced up from the right corner to collect a handoff from Russell Westbrook. Kendrick Perkins laid out one of his patented pancake screens on Paul, who crumpled to the floor as Durant found daylight at the top of the arc.
Paul’s eyes followed Durant’s shot through the air. As the ball fell through the net, you could see Paul’s rage as he wagged his right arm in disgust. The Clippers’ narrow lead had evaporated and the game was now tied 98-98 with 32.2 seconds remaining.
That’s when Paul picked himself and his team up off the ground and went to work, with the crowd at Chesapeake Energy Arena in a frenzy.
Paul had been mired in something of a shooting slump since the beginning of the month, but after halftime, he promptly revived his game. And like so many perilous fourth quarters that preceded it, Paul assumed the role of savior again on Wednesday night, as he finished with 31 points and four assists.
Less than a minute before Durant’s game-tying 3, Paul broke to freedom and slung the ball toward the hoop. When the shot clanked off the rim, Paul dove through traffic for the tip back to give the Clippers a 98-93 lead.
But it was Paul’s final bucket, following the Durant 3-pointer, that provided the theatrics. Facing the Thunder’s defensive ace Thabo Sefolosha at the top of the floor, Paul waived off a screen from Blake Griffin and sized up his defender.
“I did an in-and-out on (Sefolosha),” Paul said, referring to his impeccable left-to-right crossover dribble. “A lot of guys are used to me crossing over to get back to the middle, so I used the in-and-out and he went for it.”
Paul went to the right of both Sefolosha and Kendrick Perkins, then faked a kickout pass to Randy Foye in the corner, before weaving past Westbrook, then finally twisting right and nearly falling out of bounds with the off-balanced shot to elude the NBA’s leading shot-blocker, Serge Ibaka.
If you’re scoring at home, that’s 1-on-4 — Paul vs. four-fifths of the Thunder’s starting lineup. It’s the kind of play that elicits a facepalm from coaches, fans and teammates if orchestrated by a lesser talent. But the Clippers wouldn’t want it any other way.