[stag_dropcap font_size=”75px” style=”squared”]I[/stag_dropcap]t’s safe to say that theft is a big deal whenever Chris Paul is involved. Some might argue that the Los Angeles Clippers stole him from the New Orleans Pelicans. Others might argue that they stole him from the Los Angeles Lakers, but that’s a story for another day. Either way, he’s been involved with theft. And then you watch him on the court and realize that he actually relishes the fact that he’s a thief. He loves to steal the ball, and it’s something he’s remarkably amazing at.
This is now Chris Paul’s twelfth season in the National Basketball Association, and he’s currently leading the league in steals per game. If he were to hold onto that lead all season, it’d be the seventh time in twelve years that he’s led the league. To put it into context, no other player in NBA history has led the league in steals per game more than three times in their entire career. Those players? Allen Iverson, Michael Jordan, Micheal Ray Richardson, and Alvin Robertson. Basically, Chris Paul is the greatest swindler in history.
On Wednesday night in Dallas, all he did was register four more steals in just 26 minutes of action. And that doesn’t include a fifth steal that would have been granted to him if the ball didn’t get deflected out of bounds. We’re going to look at all of those plays because, to be quite honest, we need to watch Chris Paul be a downright pain in the ass to an opposing team. He’s slipped ever so slightly on the defensive end, as far as being an on-ball defender goes, but he’s still one of the very best overall defenders in the game, and this game showed it.
We see Chris Paul just standing over on the weak side minding his own business as Wesley Matthews goes into his shot. Paul’s just standing there, watching ever so intently as the ball cascades towards the rim. He’s observing, hoping that the ball bounces just the perfect way into his tender loving hands. Instead, it hits off the rim and bounds right towards Andrew Bogut. Sensing that he must be vigilant and not let this transgression go unpunished, Paul jumps right into action and swipes at the ball with the ferocity of a feral animal. That ball is his, and he wants it. It fumbles loose and the Clippers pick it up. Paul has done his job.
On the surface, this looks like nothing more than just your run of the mill swipe of the ball on a rebound. Nothing more, nothing less. Except it’s so much more! He flat out gets angry and jumps towards Bogut like he’s going to attack him. His claws are out, he’s yearning for the ball, and he just rips it away from the big strong Aussie. It’s a sneaky move, and also kind of a big one early on in the game considering how much the Clippers were struggling at that point. Chalk one up for the Thief God.
Shortly after that first steal, we get a glimpse at Paul as a post defender. Matthews gets the ball and sizes him up before slowly starting to back him down. Matthews gets nowhere on the initial two dribbles, so he turns baseline and then tries to spin back to the middle. But Paul meets him and stops his progress. Matthews tries to bring the ball over the top, but Paul gets his slimy little paws all over the rock and dislodges it right towards DeAndre Jordan. As he tries to corral it, Jordan inadvertently knocks it out of bounds. He might not have taken the ball, but he did steal our hearts.
When you first gaze upon his stature, you wouldn’t think much of Chris Paul as a post defender, but he’s actually quite solid in that regard due to his low center of gravity. Well, that and the fact his hands are faster than someone on Basketball Twitter jumping to an assumption about a player within the first five minutes of their debut. He just knows how to work angles and take advantage of players. Matthews should have had the edge here, but he didn’t. In Matthews’ defense, he did score way later in the game on a post-up against Paul. But the game was already decided then. Them hands, though.
One of the reasons for the Los Angeles Clippers’ improvement defensively has been off-ball defense when it comes to playing passing lanes. On this play, we see it start with Chris Paul already digging down into the paint. He’s staring directly at Wesley Matthews in the corner. As Matthews tries to settle the set down, Paul inches up towards the nail and free throw line area. It seemingly gives Matthews a window to fire a pass through. However, Paul jumps the passing lane and perfectly deflects the pass right to Blake Griffin for another steal.
In hindsight, Matthews should have attempted a skip pass over the top of the defense rather than just trying to rifle the pass through the defense. It would have yielded better results. Still, look at the sheer wizardry of Paul here. He just flat out baited Matthews into that pass. It’s exactly what he wanted. He never even took his eyes off of Matthews once, which is truly amazing considering how Paul knew where to be at all times in relation to his assignment. This is just next level stuff. Thiefmaster General at work here.
Late in the second quarter, we see what should be a mismatch squarely in Dallas’ favor. Dirk Nowitzki has the ball near the right elbow with Chris Paul planted firmly in front of him. Paul is not intimidated. He gets right into the body of Nowitzki and forces him to put the ball on the floor. Nowitzki goes into his patented post backdown spin move sequence, but Paul stays disciplined throughout the entire ordeal. When Nowitzki brings the ball down for a split second to gather into a shot attempt, Paul swipes right down and rips the ball loose in clean fashion. It goes right to Luc Mbah a Moute who passes up to J.J. Redick for the easy layup that stretches Los Angeles’ lead.
There’s no situation where Dirk Nowitzki shouldn’t get whatever shot he wants here. But he didn’t. Why? Because Chris Paul is a freaking master manipulator. He’s a wormy little weasel who lured Nowitzki into a false sense of security then ripped that feeling right away – along with the ball. This was future Hall of Famer versus future Hall of Famer taking place, and the little man from Wake Forest managed to outfox the hulking German. Not all heroes wear capes. Some just steal for a living.
Finally, we have a play in the third quarter where Harrison Barnes gets the ball from Andrew Bogut near the right wing. Barnes is coming off of a Bogut screen. Chris Paul is located in the weak side corner. The Clippers switch everything here, and that leaves DeAndre Jordan guarding Barnes near the free throw line. Barnes attempts a dribble move before stopping and throwing up a shot fake that he hopes gets Jordan to leave his feet. But Jordan stays disciplined. Paul is hovering in the paint denying a passing lane underneath the hoop. That’s when Barnes spots an open shooter in the corner, but Paul knows the spacing better than Barnes does, and Paul shoots the gap to deflect the pass. He then saves it from going out of bounds by whipping the ball directly to Redick, who them passes up to Blake Griffin on the break. From there, Griffin alley-oops it to DeAndre Jordan, and the Clippers are up by nearly thirty now.
Not only did Chris Paul deny a dump down pass to a player near the hoop, but he also got back into position so fast that he negated a pass to an open shooter in the corner. He then saved the ball from going out of bounds by passing it perfectly to a teammate so that his own team could start a fast break. This is just some magisterial stuff from the Point God. You can say he took advantage of Barnes’ lack of awareness as a passer, but he also just took advantage of the entire Dallas team by preying on their weaknesses. The man is a dastardly defender.
When it’s all said and done, Chris Paul is going to go down as one of the greatest players in the history of the game, and he’ll be a top two point guard. But think about the mark he’s left on the game as a defender. As noted way up above, he’s on pace to lead the league in steals for a seventh season. That’d be more than Allen Iverson and Michael Jordan combined. Think about how crazy that seems to say out loud. That’s how freaking good Paul happens to be. It was on full display Wednesday night as the Dallas Mavericks just had to sit back and watch him not only steal their lunch, but eat it right in front of them as they cowered in fear.
On Thursday, the Los Angeles Clippers are going to celebrate Thanksgiving by staying in Dallas so that they can watch the football game. They’re going to spend time bonding, eating, and generally giving each other a rough time. At the head of the table will be Chris Paul, a mischievous marvel of might that will undoubtedly attempt to steal the last scraps from the serving platters. It’s what he does. It’s what makes him so damn great. And, on Friday, they’ll need his greatness once more to carve out another victory as they take on the Detroit Pistons. Another win might be on the horizon, and Paul might just steal it for them.