Chris Paul had heard the questions and the numbers so many times heading into Wednesday’s game against the Utah Jazz that he decided to double-check them with long-time Los Angeles Clippers announcer Ralph Lawler.
After the team's shootaround before the game, he went up to Lawler and asked him if it was true that the Clippers hadn’t won in Utah since Jan. 22, 2003 and had only won once in Salt Lake City since April 18, 1989, which was one month after Blake Griffin was born.
Lawler confirmed the numbers. He has been with the team for 33 years and has almost grown accustomed to losing in the Great Basin.
Paul then asked Lawler a favor. Paul asked Lawler to let him know of such streaks every time the Clippers play a game on the road or against an opponent that has had the Clippers’ number.
Before the game, Paul continued to rattle off the Clippers’ woeful history against the Jazz to ESPN’s Heather Cox as if to remind himself of what he was up against.
If Paul is going to change the culture of the Clippers, it will have to be done by tearing down one streak after another against teams that have routinely beat up on the Clippers over the years.
Paul’s hit list started Wednesday in Salt Lake City and he made sure the Clippers’ losing streak in Utah would not continue as he erupted for a season-high 34 points and 11 assists in a 107-105 win over the Jazz.
His play in the fourth quarter was not only a steadying, it was electrifying at times. He worked in a no-look reverse lay-up and a crossover straight out of an And1 Mix tape into 12 fourth quarter points to lead the Clippers to their comeback win.
Paul saw firsthand how badly the Clippers have played in Utah when he and Mo Williams sat on the bench with injuries during the Jazz’s 108-79 win over the Clippers on Jan. 17. Before the game, he reminded his teammates the importance of breaking the Clippers’ losing streak in Utah after what they had done to them earlier in the season.
“It’s a big win for us,” Paul said. “They pretty much embarrassed us a week and half ago when we were here and right now we’re just trying to pile up wins. Like I said before the game, we were 1-37 up until this one and we’re just trying to make our own history.”
There are a myriad of reasons why this Clippers team is different than any other in history before but perhaps the biggest is their ability to close games out with players Paul, Chauncey Billups and Griffin, who had 34 points and 11 rebounds.
“When it’s winning time, it’s winning time,” Paul said. “My teammates look for me to be a little bit more aggressive there in the fourth quarter and luckily I was making shots. I have such great teammates that command so much attention that a lot of time they just leave me open.”
In the past four days the Clippers have done more to change the culture of the team than ever before after beating the Nuggets in Denver, a city they hadn’t won in since Jan. 27, 2006, blowing out the Oklahoma City Thunder, who hold the best record in the NBA, and beating the Jazz in Utah for the first time since Griffin was 13 years old.
When Reggie Evans secured the final rebound of the game off a missed free throw by C.J. Miles, the entire team surrounded a smiling Evans, who was still lying on the floor with the ball.
This wasn’t just another win; it was another step in a season-long culture change for the Clippers.
“If we stick together and play hard,” Paul said. “The sky’s the limit.”