The Kings’ defense has made average guards look good. Unsurprisingly, it made an All-Star such as Chris Paul look like the MVP candidate he is – and more.
Paul showed why he’s among the NBA’s elite Friday night as he orchestrated a 117-107 victory that sent the Kings to a second consecutive loss at Sleep Train Arena.
Perimeter defense has been an issue all season, and Paul took advantage by getting past guards off the dribble and hitting shots over bigger players, too. Paul had his way with the Kings to the tune of a season-high 40 points to go with 13 assists, eight rebounds and only two turnovers.
Paul shot 13 for 20 and was especially hot inside the three-point arc, where he shot 9 for 11.
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The Kings were content to give Paul midrange jumpers, and once he got going, there was no stopping him.
“They got a point guard that had control of the game,” said Kings coach George Karl. “Conceptually we switched some – didn’t work. ... When he shoots the ball that well, it’s very difficult to figure out how to handle him.”
The Kings were without starting point guard Rajon Rondo (right thumb tendinitis) but it’s unlikely having Rondo would have made a difference against Paul, who seemed to get any shot he wanted, when he wanted.
“That’s what we’re kind of living with (Friday), midrange jumper,” said Kings center DeMarcus Cousins. “He took advantage of it, so credit to him getting a good game.”
Paul had been dealing with a bad right forearm, a sore left calf and a bruised left thigh. The Kings’ defense was the remedy he needed to get through the game.
“They sort of play back on the ball screen and stuff like that,” Paul said. “Got my first couple of shots to go down and just going from there.”
Karl said the plan was to double team Paul in the second half, but the Kings’ offense fell apart after halftime, which allowed Paul and the Clippers to play in transition.
The Clippers took control on a 20-0 run to lead 84-72.
“It’s hard to have a lot of aggressiveness when you’re in transition defense,” Karl said. “I think it will show (on film), you’re talking about one of the top five point guards that might have played the game. He was into the game and he was into his shot.”
Paul played aggressive from the start, the norm as of late with star Blake Griffin out with a hand injury. The Clippers’ offense relies on Paul to get it going.
“Especially with Blake being out, he’s going to be a lot more aggressive,” said Kings guard Darren Collison. “I thought (Friday) we made it way too easy for him. That can’t happen. He’s a great player for a reason and you’ve got to make it tough, and I don’t think we did that.”
Paul scored 12 points in the first quarter and had 23 points at halftime.
“He’s smart,” said Kings guard Seth Curry. “He did a decent job early in the game, and if he’s going to keep getting the same look, he’s going to figure it out eventually. It was tough to stop him, obviously. You have to give him different looks, and we didn’t do too much of that, so it was kind of an easy night for him.”
Cousins led the Kings (24-33) with 26 points, 15 rebounds and nine assists. Some of the officiating frustrated the Kings, with Cousins calling it a “typical Clipper game.”
Curry scored a career-high 19 points. Rudy Gay had 23 points and Collison had 18 points.
Jeff Green scored 22 points for the Clippers (38-20) and Jamal Crawford had 21 points off the bench.