The Clippers had been there before: the fate of the franchise seeming to hang in the balance, Blake Griffin sidelined with an injury and the ball in Chris Paul's hands.
In Game 3 on Friday night, with Los Angeles and Utah knotted at 1-1 in the first round, the smallest player on the court had the biggest second half.
Paul torched the Jazz for 24 points after intermission, finishing with a total line of 34 points, 10 assists and 7 rebounds, his eighth career playoff game with at least 30 points and 10 assists. Paul personally outscored the Jazz 13-10 in the final 4:02, erasing Utah's largest second-half lead of 14. The Clippers survived 111-106.
He hit a ridiculous and-1 three-pointer.
Then he parlayed the threat of his jumper and used a vicious yo-yo dribble to freeze George Hill and Derrick Favors and find DeAndre Jordan for a thunderous alley-oop.
And he shook the entire defense with a behind-the-back bounce en route to an easy lay-in.
"You just—it's winning time," Paul told ESPN after the game.
Griffin left the contest in the first half. X-rays were negative, but the strain in his big right toe ultimately left the Clippers' All-Star forward sidelined for the remainder of the night. Doc Rivers informed reporters postgame Griffin will undergo a CAT scan on Saturday. His status for Sunday's Game 4 is very much uncertain.
This was Paul's 72nd career playoff game, an NBA record for postseason bouts without reaching a conference finals. And with the future of the Clippers well in doubt—have you heard Paul, Griffin and J.J. Redick are all free agents this off-season?—Paul may very well be tasked with leading L.A sans Griffin for the remainder of this more-than-challenging battle with Utah. Should Paul continue his heroics and deliver for the Clippers, their reward will only be staring down the Golden State Warriors in round two.
The postseason has never quite broke well for Paul. He may ultimately be the greatest pure point guard to ever walk this earth and still never reach the third round of the playoffs. And... so what? Nights like Friday perfectly encapsulated Paul's historic brilliance. Few can dazzle and dizzy opposing defenses at his level. He's nicknamed the Point God for a reason. For however long we have Paul in these playoffs and the future, let's worship his powers.