Philadelphia, PA – Greatness is a little overrated in my book. Leadership, however, is not.
Chris Paul showed a little of both Sunday in Memphis as he and the Los Angeles Clippers pulled off one of the greatest comebacks in NBA playoff history.
Faced with a deficit that reached 27 at one point against a talented Grizzlies team that had won 11 straight and finished 26-7 at home in the regular season, Paul, who is dealing with a strained groin, could have shut things down early with an eye on Game 2.
In fact, no one would have batted an eye if Paul asked out of a rout. Instead, the All-Star was seen pleading with his coach Vinny Del Negro to put him back into the game.
Paul eventually capped a furious rally with a pair of free throws with 23.7 seconds left, as Los Angeles stunned Memphis, 99-98, to take a 1-0 series lead in their Western Conference quarterfinals set.
"I remember coming out at the end of the third quarter and told coach, 'Let me go back in. It's never over, give us a chance, give us a chance,'" Paul said. "And I think when our energy picked up, we got a few stops and Nick Young hit a couple 3s and in any situation you've always got to believe."
Memphis, which opened postseason play on its home floor for the first time in franchise history, dominated early, but the Clippers closed the game with an amazing 28-3 run.
Paul finished with average numbers by his standards - 14 points and 11 assists - but this was a game all about intangibles.
A Los Angeles victory appeared unattainable in the early going, when the Grizzlies opened the game with a 23-9 run and held a 34-16 lead after one quarter. Memphis was up 58-39 by the break before extending its lead to 27 in the third.
It almost seemed like the raucous FedEx Forum crowd was ready to spill out onto Beale Street for a late happy hour.
Early in the final quarter, it was 95-71 when the Clippers began their comeback. Reserve forward Reggie Evans, the very definition of an energy player, began the surge with a layup and later gave the Clippers their first lead of the game, 97-96, with another bucket in the final minute.
"We felt good going into the fourth quarter," Evans said. "We started chipping away, chipping away. Then all of a sudden you could feel it. You just kind of could see it in their (the Grizzlies') eyes. You could feel that heartbeat, it started changing, and we took advantage of that."
In between, the streaky Young made three straight treys, the last of which cut the deficit to 96-93 with 1:47 left.
But Paul was the key. He's the leader of this team and the voice. By refusing to give in to what looked like an untenable situation, he lit a fire under his teammates.
Paul was hardly the only hero on Sunday, but for one night at least, Superman could have ceded the lead chair at the Justice League to CP3.
For mere mortals like the rest of us, things like hard work and perseverance tend to be the kind of attributes that help us to overcome challenges forced by nothing other than circumstance. Most walk away from insurmountable odds; it's just easier.
The Grizzlies have quickly learned that Chris Paul refuses to take the easy way out.
"That game was such a blur, I need to watch it to remember it," Paul said. "(I've never been in a comeback) in a game of that magnitude with that much intensity and so much at stake."