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Essay: Chris Paul Going Two-For-One

Chris Paul’s basketball acumen has been routinely praised around the league throughout his career. Since coming into the NBA from Wake Forest, there are few points guards that could challenge Paul in maturity and basic basketball intelligence. He’s considered the top point guard in the game today, but it’s not because of gaudy scoring and passing statistics, or a killer crossover—though he’s got one of those too—it’s because of his leadership abilities and willingness to do anything in order to get the win. Even shirk scoring opportunities for most of three and a half quarters before lighting up his man in the fourth.

Perhaps the best example of Paul’s ability to read the game, and adapt accordingly, comes during the last 40-30 seconds of a quarter. It’s here where Paul figures out the best odds and then goes out and follows through. He did it again earlier this week in Los Angeles’ win over Utah.

The Clippers trailed the Jazz after getting outscored in the first quarter, 31-19. They made up five of those points by half, but Utah again outscored them in the third, 25-22. That third quarter could have been worse if it wasn’t for Chris Paul’s recognition of the 2-for-1. The Clippers then carried the momentum from the end of the third quarter into the final segment where they cut Utah’s lead to just three in the first three minutes of the fourth, and eventually went on to win by one. 

The difference between Paul  and, say, Lou Williams, is the panache with which Paul plays out the two-for-one. After Utah’s Gordon Haywood drained a 22-footer with 34 seconds left in the third, Blake Griffin passed the ball in; except, because Paul told him too, he passed it low and slow so Paul could follow it to mid-court before picking the ball up and starting the clock (I never understood why opponents—in this case Mo Williams, who should know better after playing with Paul last season—don’t force Paul to pick up the ball before he wants to?).

Once Paul picks up the ball, he uses the threat of a DeAndre Jordan screen at the top of the key to get free near the right elbow. Instead of shooting it himself, he lobs a perfect pass to a cutting Matt Barnes backdoor for the dunk. Los Angeles got the bucket and only four seconds came off the clock, so that leaves 30 seconds left. Even if Utah uses the entirety of the 24 second clock, the Clippers will get another chance with the ball before the period is out. The Clippers did get another chance to score, but Paul’s 12-footer fell short. Regardless of that last shot, it was the perfect execution of the 2-for-1, and it’s not the first time Paul has done so in the third period.

Paul’s modus operandi for most regular season games is to lay back through the first three quarters and conserve his energy and knees. He gets all his teammates the ball in their favorite spots, and hopes that’s enough to get the lead. Once the fourth quarter rolls around, and the score is inevitably close, Paul goes into his superstar mode and it’s nearly impossible to keep him out of the lane.

Since Paul’s hyperdrive begins in the fourth, it makes sense he’d end the third quarter with his patented 2-for-1. Witness the exact same scenario agains the Jazz, but this time against Miami in January last year.

Again, the Clippers are trailing in the third, this time by only one, and Paul waits until he’s past the halfcourt line before he even touches the ball. He uses the threat of a high Reggie Evans screen (this is one of Paul’s trademarks, where he’ll jump the screen before his guy can get set, catching his defender and the rotating defender out of position), to again get into the lane. His penetration again forces the defense to rotate, which opens up Jordan for a dunk and the lead.

Chris Paul understands the odds are better for two high risk shots than one low risk shot; that’s the whole point of the 2-for-1. You use the shot clock to create an extra opportunity for your team to get a bucket. It only happens a couple times a game, and Paul isn’t always in a position to do so, but it’s often Paul’s tinkering that has them in a position to win. And win they did last night, 105-104. Even though Paul didn’t connect on his jumper to end the third, his oop to Matt Barnes as the first part of the 2-for-1, might have been the difference.

The next time there’s 40-30 seconds left in a quarter, see if the point guard with the ball understands the 2-for-1 as well as Paul does.

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