Playoff Stat of the Day (5/11): Chris Paul and Close-Out Games

May 7, 2012; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Clippers point guard Chris Paul (3) moves the ball against the defense of Memphis Grizzlies power forward Zach Randolph (50) during the overtime period of game four of the Western Conference quarterfinals of the 2012 NBA Playoffs at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-US PRESSWIRE

Memphis Grizzlies at Los Angeles Clippers (9:00ET on ESPN): Clippers lead series 3-1

  • Stat: In five career “close-out” playoff games – contests in which either team faces a must win scenario – Chris Paul averaged 17 points, 8.6 rebounds, 11.6 assists, 2.6 steals, and 3 turnovers while shooting 45% (7.2-16.0) from the field.
  • Take: Chris Paul is a different animal in the playoffs, that much we know by now.  He single-handedly willed an overmatched Hornets team to a six game series with the Lakers last year, and has arguably been been this postseason’s MVP in leading the Clippers to a 3-2 advantage over the Memphis Grizzlies going into tonight’s game 6 at Staples Center.  He’s received special and deserved attention recently for dominating fourth quarters and coming up huge when it matters most, so one would expect Paul to be extra-excellent when his team is on the verge of elimination or the brink of advancing to the next round.  His career averages – all with the New Orleans Hornets, of course – in these instances underwhelm, though, as he’s actually performed below his playoff norms in points and shooting percentage.  For his playoff career, Paul averages 22.0 points per game on 48.9% shooting, well above his “close-out” marks of 17.0 and 45% despite taking almost exactly the same amount of shots from the field (16.1 to 16.0).  Five games is an admittedly small sample size, but in general Paul has failed to rise to the challenge in these situations the way he has time and time again in most every pivotal fourth quarter.  He can hardly be faulted for his 1-4 record in these games, as the Hornets were the lower seeded team in every series but the 2008 Western Conference semi-finals when New Orleans surrendered a 3-1 lead to the San Antonio Spurs.  He’s with a better and more talented team now, and one suspects as his career in Los Angeles goes on he’ll have more success in closing teams out and/or pushing a series an additional game.  But for now, Paul’s track record here is questionable at best, especially considering his growing, deserved, and well-earned reputation as basketball’s ultimate “big-moment” player.  He’s got a huge opportunity to change that tonight, but is supposedly a game-time decision as the result of a lingering groin injury.  That’s all talk, of course, and Paul will surely start at point guard for LAC tonight as long as he can limp up and down the floor a la Isiah Thomas.  And knowing the competitive spirit of Paul, an Isiah-esque performance would surprise no one, but make sure you don’t expect it – CP3, healthy or not, still has something to prove in games like tonight’s.