Despite all of their improvements and all of their depth, the Los Angeles Clippers remain a team that is almost completely reliant on Chris Paul to come up with the scoring in the final minutes while everyone else simply takes a step backs and hopes everything turns out well. In the regular season it’s mostly been working fine for them, but come the playoffs, it won’t be enough to get the Clippers further than ever before.

And still, sometimes you need your superstar to take it to another level and come through. Paul scored 17 fourth quarter points (finishing with 29 and 11 assists) in a face-off against Deron Williams, who has fallen off considerably in the best point guard in the NBA debates this last season, mostly because he’s playing with damaged ankles and hasn’t been getting the rest and treatment to bring him back as good as new, if that’s even possible.

A lot of these games we’ve been letting get away from us. Tonight we found a way to get stops when we needed and we got some big buckets when we needed them. We played the best in the biggest moments.

Paul played his best at the biggest moments, that ease. He scored 11 of the Clippers’ final 13 points, the other two being what most referred to as the biggest two points of the game. With the Clippers ahead 92-90 and Deron Williams trying to break Paul’s ankles, Jamal Crawford came up with a huge steal and a dunk on the other end to make it 94-90, and keep the Clippers enough of a distance away to finish with the 101-95 win, keeping them 0.5 games behind the surging Nuggets.

Blake Griffin really struggled against the inside presence of Brook Lopez and the physicality/dirtiness of Reggie Evans, finishing with only 11 points on 4-11 from the field. The Clippers couldn’t get their up-tempo kind of basketball they like to show-off with at home, and instead of alley-oops and creating turnover after turnover, they had to settle for more traditional ways of scoring. Maybe it’s for the best, because they’re going to need guys like Willie Green (15 points) to step up here and there when things don’t go so well for the more recognizable stars. They still caused 15 turnovers, making 23 points off of them, demonstrating once again why they’re number on in the NBA in that department.

It’s the defense, and only the defense, that will put the Clippers in the same line as the Spurs, Thunder and possibly the Nuggets, if their run is more than just a late-season quirk, when it comes to real contenders in the West. They have to go-to-guy, they have the scoring defense on their side. All they need is a little bit more of that confidence and smart basketball from players like Griffin, Matt Barnes and even DeAndre Jordan if they’re going to overcome the offensive talent gap between them and the rest of the top 4 in the West competition. This feels like the year for the Clippers to go higher than ever before, but it’s not going to happen if Chris Paul is all they have to sell the world each time.

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