Chris Paul is a screen on which we project all of our feelings about basketball.
To purists, he is the new Bob Cousy or Isiah Thomas: A tough, smart, courageous point guard unafraid to take a big shot, throw a big elbow and push the ball right down your esophagus. To the annoyed masses, he is the dark side of karma, a walking example of the misfortune that descends on those who cheat, those who whine and -- most importantly -- those who swing fists below another man's waist. To fans of the Clippers, he is the Point God, a franchise savior. To rivals, he is a pest to be swatted away. To the legionnaires of snark, he's one hilarious flop Vine after another. To the legionnaires of smarm, he is a disgrace to the sanctity of sport and an insult to fans.
But one thing folks of all persuasions have always known ever since he first stepped onto an NBA court in 2004 is that he's really damn good. And now he finally has a signature moment, a trademark game basketball fans can point to as his zenith.
Clips-Spurs Game 7
Clips-Spurs Game 7
Despite a relative lack of postseason notoriety and no MVP trophies, CP3 has been among the five best players of his generation. This is just Paul's fourth trip to the second round, and he's never gone further. When MVP results are announced soon, he may finish in the top five for the fifth time in his career -- he'd finished No. 2 in 2008 (still his best season ever, though this comes close) and No. 3 in 2012.
Steve Nash and Stephen Curry are held up as the perfect prototypes of the New Wave of NBA point guards, but CP3 stands as a fusion of both. Whereas Nash shot extremely well in service of his extraordinary playmaking, and whereas Curry sets up teammates so perfectly because so much attention is paid to his trigger, CP3 mixes both aspects into a randomized sequence of art. Nash was an incredible playmaker who could shoot. Curry is a perfect scorer who can pass. CP3 is not an elite scorer or an elite passer: He is both at once. He's also a fierce defender, although his first-quarter injury on Saturday slowed him down considerably at that end. Tony Parker -- nursing some ailments himself -- was able to scoot around CP3 rather easily.
For a time midway through the fourth quarter, it appeared that'd be the latest curse upon Paul's head. Despite his irrepressible shot-making off one good wheel, despite the gutty play of L.A.'s maligned role players and despite Blake Griffin's all-around brilliance, the Clippers' defense did not seem to have enough to survive. L.A.'s best defender, Paul, was rendered a slightly mobile statue on defense, and the Spurs tried hard to punish him. There was nowhere for CP3 to hide. Meanwhile, the intentional fouling game and some timely smallball from Gregg Popovich forced Doc Rivers to pull DeAndre Jordan for a stretch, opening up the glass to Kawhi Leonard and the Spurs.
For all of CP3's heroics to that point -- and there had been plenty, including a buzzer-beating third-quarter bomb -- they appeared to have come in vain. That's the story of Paul's career to date: glory in vain.
Griffin, J.J. Redick and the Clippers continued to match the Spurs bucket for bucket, though, and CP3 finished the job with a shot that will be looped for decades to come no matter what happens to the Clippers now.
The Los Angeles Times dubbed it the "Kiss of Life," and that's about perfect. How many lifelong basketball fans -- in Los Angeles, in southern Texas, across the world -- were born on Saturday? And while CP3 has been writing his story for 29 years, Saturday night gave life to his legend.
The only question now is whether that shot is the apex of the legend of CP3, or whether there is a bigger stage to conquer.