Thunder vs. Rockets: Chris Paul’s clutch play has been on full display in first round of NBA playoffs

The Oklahoma City Thunder have continued to surprise people this season. After losing Russell Westbrook and Paul George over the offseason, few expected Oklahoma City to even be in the hunt for a playoff spot, let alone for them to clinch the fifth spot in the ultra-competitive Western Conference. Now, thanks largely to the consistently clutch play of Chris Paul, the Thunder are one win away from moving on to the second round. 

During the regular season, Paul was the NBA’s most clutch player, as he led the league in total clutch points and clutch steals — points and steals amassed in the final five minutes of a game in which the difference in score is five points or fewer — with 150 and 10, respectively. That trend has continued in the postseason. In each of Oklahoma City’s three wins in their first round series against the Houston Rockets so far, Paul has made huge plays down the stretch to help propel his team to victory. 

After the Thunder fell behind 2-0 early in the series, Paul almost single-handedly saved the Thunder from falling into a historically insurmountable hole with his play late in Game 3. Here’s a quick recap of Paul’s performance in the closing minutes of regulation and overtime of that game, via ESPN:  

[Paul] made a basket to put the Thunder within three late in the fourth, and Houston guard Danuel House then stepped out of bounds to give OKC the ball back. A layup by Steven Adams cut it to 102-101 with less than 30 seconds to go in the fourth. Paul and the Rockets’ James Harden got tangled up before the ball was thrown in bounds. Harden made a free throw, but Houston turned it over.

Paul then set teammate Shai Gilgeous-Alexander up with a pinpoint pass for the go-ahead 3 with 14.3 seconds left, and once the game went to overtime following split free throws by House, Paul went to work. With Harden fouled out, Paul hit two 3s in a 75-second window, including a ridiculous fadeaway from the wing as the shot clock expired, to seal Game 3.

Paul followed up that performance with another string of clutch plays in Game 4. With his team trailing by one and under two minutes remaining on the clock, Paul put his head down and used a quick hesitation dribble to get past James Harden for a layup.  

On the next possession, Paul pulled up from just above the elbow and drained a jumper in Harden’s face.

Paul added two defensive rebounds and four made free throws in the final 90 seconds of Game 4 in order to clinch the game for the Thunder. Westbrook’s return to the lineup helped propel the Rockets to a convincing 114-80 victory in Game 5, so there was no room for late game heroics from Paul. But, with his team facing elimination in Game 6, Paul was back to his clutch ways. With the game hanging in the balance late in the fourth, Paul hit a pair of tough three’s to keep Oklahoma City afloat.

Even with one of the league’s better perimeter defenders in Robert Covington on him, it didn’t matter. Paul then went on to show that clutch plays aren’t limited to the offensive end, as he came up with two big steals in the final three minutes to help seal the deal for the Thunder and push the series to a decisive seventh game. 

In all, Paul logged 40 minutes in Game 6, and he didn’t commit a single turnover, which is extremely impressive considering the fact that he had the ball in his hands constantly. 

“When it gets to clutch time, fourth quarter, some people are built for it, some people shy away from it,” Paul said after the game. “Some people are built for it, man, and we’re just gonna keep hoopin.”

Clearly, Paul is one of the people built for clutch situations, and his play in the closing minutes throughout the series against the Rockets has the Thunder in position to potentially pull off a major first round upset. 

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