The Timberwolves had spent the night throwing up bricks against the Los Angeles Clippers’ energetic defense. The home team was trailing 81-70 with 7 minutes, 18 seconds left, when L.A. coach Doc Rivers went back to star point guard Chris Paul to take it home for his club.
The Wolves promptly scored eight points in a row and Rivers called a timeout. And then he looked at Paul and said: “What are you waiting for?”
Paul was 2-for-9 for the night. Add that to 13-for-41 in his previous three games and Paul was in a 15-for-50 ice box since he had last seen the Timberwolves in Los Angeles on Nov. 11.
“Chris was struggling; he needed to see shots go in,” Rivers said. “I told him, ‘The only time you’re going to see shots go in is when you take them.’ ”
The Clippers came out of the timeout. Paul gave up the ball and then got it back. “I saw [Ricky] Rubio on the ground — I don’t know how he got there — but I was open,” Paul said. “I made the three. It was just cool to see the ball finally go through the net.”
It wasn’t that cool for the Timberwolves. That three was the start of a blitz by Paul that gave the Clippers a 102-98 victory. The Wolves have now dropped to a middling 7-6 and face a grueling schedule in the 2½ weeks ahead.
Paul followed the three with an assist on Blake Griffin’s jumper. And then, after Kevin Martin’s three cut the lead to 86-85, seeing the ball go in the basket lost its novelty completely for Paul.
He made a runner, was fouled by Rubio and converted the three-point play. He made a three-pointer. He made an 18-footer, a 16-footer and then a 19-footer. Finally, he made a free throw to put the lead at 99-95 with 23 seconds left.
That made it 13 consecutive points — and 16 in just over seven minutes — for the NBA’s best point guard.
There also was an issue being made of an alleged record set by Paul: The first player in NBA history with double-digits in points and assists in 12 consecutive games to open a season. Apparently, 11 such games was a distinction Paul shared with another point guard formerly employed in Los Angeles, Earvin “Magic” Johnson.
Paul expressed pride in surpassing a mark that he shared with Magic, a friend and mentor. It took his coach, Rivers, to give proper perspective to this exotic record.
“Rajon Rondo had some crazy record for us in Boston last season,” Rivers said. “Who came up with this one?”
An L.A. reporter gave the answer: “Elias,” as in the statistical wizards from Elias Sports Bureau.
“I thought so,” Rivers said. “I think half the records we have now are made-up records from Elias. Who ever knew we had these records?”
Doc gave a puzzled shrug, and added: “At the end of the day, when you’re in the [Magic] neighborhood, any record made up or not … that’s pretty special company.”
There were several failures for the Wolves on Wednesday — including Kevin Love’s 2-for-14 shooting — but coach Rick Adelman pointed at the obvious: “Chris Paul took over in the fourth quarter and made a lot of big plays.”
Jamal Crawford, the wonderful gunner who comes off the bench for the Clippers, was sitting in the cramped visitors locker room. “Ricky Rubio shouldn’t feel too bad,” he said. “When CP gets going like that, there’s nothing you can do about it.”
The Clippers were hustling to get to the airport and take the charter to Oklahoma City for Thursday’s game with the Thunder.
Paul was relieved to see his shot return in time for his match against Russell Westbrook, the scorer who happens to be announced as OKC’s point guard.
“I honestly have never been through a spurt like this, where I can’t make a shot,” Paul said. “My teammates have been the ones to tell me to keep shooting. I’m going to keep shooting, too, because I know I can make those shots.”
As does everyone who was in Target Center on Wednesday night.