For a notorious control freak, Chris Paul has looked perilously close to losing command of his emotions in two playoff losses to the Memphis Grizzlies. Last night, Paul threw himself into near-hysterics over an official’s failure to give him a call on an obvious flop.
At that point in the 3rd quarter, the Grizzlies were comprehensively demolishing the Clippers. After battering the Clippers in the paint throughout the game, the Grizzlies led 73-51. Then, in the span of 80 seconds of game time that felt like about 10 minutes in real time, Paul, Caron Butler and Mo Williams were each whistled for a technical foul, every one for complaining to the officials.
Fast forward to 6:13 seconds left in the game (:55 left), and the Grizzlies are clinging to a six-point lead. Bet the Clips wish they could have those technical freethrows back, right?
You know what would have helped LA’s comeback? Not getting five technicals.
— John Hollinger (@johnhollinger) May 10, 2012
Mr. Hollinger’s point is well taken, it’s stupid to give up free points of any kind. This is especially true when they come, essentially, from being a bunch of complainers.
But I’m not so sure the Clippers would have even been in this one without that weird burst of technicals in the third quarter.
Paul’s tantrum reminded me of another great athlete who used his mind as much as his physical ability to upend his opponents: John McEnroe.
McEnroe, along with a few others of his generation, was famous for arguing calls at great length, earning single point penalties and other minor infractions (though sometimes things escalated), in an effort not to win that specific point, but to change the emotional atmosphere of the match.
He would stalk the baseline, screaming at his opponent, the linesmen, the chair umpire, even the crowd. A notoriously petulant athlete, it wasn’t always a calculated maneuver. But his uncouth on-court demeanor could have the benefit of destabilizing matches that were not going in his favor — a quite useful ability.
When Paul, in collusion with fellow veterans Butler and Williams, vented their frustration at the officials, they too managed to disrupt the flow of the game, which by then had become a flood of Memphis freethrows and layups.
With four minutes left in the third, wverything was going Memphis’s way.
Then, all of the sudden, it wasn’t.
The Clippers clamped down a bit on defense and the Grizzlies seemed frazzled on offense, hitting only two shots — both 20-footers from Marreese Speights — over the next eight minutes as the Clippers went on a 24-6 run.
You can credit the Clippers for ratcheting up their defensive intensity (if not their offensive proficiency). You can blame the Grizzlies for abandoning their interior attack in favor of isolations and pick-and-rolls for Rudy Gay. But LA’s near-comeback hinged on a dramatic shift in the vibe of the game.
For that, you also need to credit Chris Paul, a player who is nearly always in control — even when it appears he’s losing his mind.