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OKLAHOMA CITY — First things first: Chris Paul doesn't seem too concerned with the personal narrative that surrounds him.

This isn't a LeBron James situation, where the pressure to win a championship kept building with every season and he seemed so acutely aware of all those walls that were closing in on him in Cleveland and Miami. This isn't even a Carmelo Anthony-type affair, where the overly simplistic question about why the New York Knicks star can't just put a team on his back and win it all has sometimes seemed to affect him like, well, an 800-pound gorilla on his back.

No, the Los Angeles Clippers point guard who stole the Oklahoma City Thunder's soul on Monday night in a 122-105 Game 1 victory in these Western Conference semifinals doesn't much care if you talk about his lack of a championship. He doesn't bristle if we write about how his teams have never advanced past the second round of the playoffs or the fact that he has been bounced from the first round three out of five times in all. He simply plays the game, on most nights in the sort of ferocious, unyielding, intelligent way that — save maybe for his no-show against the San Antonio Spurs in their second round sweep two years ago — leaves very little wiggle room for criticism.

But know this about Paul at this crucial crossroads in his career: The pressure is finally building with every passing day, and he looks more than ready to handle it.

GAME 1: Clippers roll through Thunder

PLAYOFFS: Round 2 schedule, TV info

By the time man who turns 29 years old on Tuesday sat down for good at the end of the third quarter and his 32-point, 10-assist, two-turnover masterpiece was over, it was blatantly obvious that his Clippers have what it takes to win it all with him at the helm. That doesn't mean they will, of course, as this particular performance included elements that may never be seen again. The pass-first star hit his first eight three-pointers before missing on his final attempt, and his joke later that "that's what I do" said it all about the uniqueness of that component. He scored 17 of his points in a first quarter in which the Clippers overwhelmed the Thunder 39-25, setting the table for the tepid and out-of-character booing that was to come from the home fans.

But the substantive stuff that won't likely go away in this series was there for all to see. The right hamstring that nagged at him in the first-round against the Golden State Warriors was a non-issue, and his spirits that were sapped by owner Donald Sterling and the racist comments revealed 10 days before had clearly improved. It was back to basketball — for now, anyways — and it was a thing of beauty.

Lest anyone forgets the exhausting ordeal these players have just been through, there was no better sign of their own fatigue than the Sunday film session that turned into a snore-fest. According to Clippers coach Doc Rivers, assistant coach Tyronn Lue was running the defensive film session when he noticed the eyelids starting to close — Paul's among them. Lue cut the session short, and Rivers — as Paul explained afterward — gave them all a well-deserved mulligan as they attempt to recharge those emotionally-drained batteries.

"Man, I can't believe (Rivers) told (on them)," Paul said of the film session. "We flew here, and as soon as we landed, we came here and we watched film – we watched a lot of film. I think we were going to go through a lot of players (for individual defensive assignment work), and once he got through Reggie Jackson and Russell Westbrook I was nodding off…(Lue) just said enough. He said, 'Go get some rest.'

"That's what makes Doc and our coaching staff so amazing, you know what I mean?" he said. "They understand. He's really a player's coach. He didn't yell at — I wasn't the only one either, by the way — but he didn't yell at anybody. He understood, and we watched (the film) this morning."

GALLERY: Top shots from Clippers-Thunder

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And therein lies the reason that Paul — whether he cares or not — is on the star-player hot seat that drives so much of the discussion surrounding the NBA. He has never had a coach with this much credibility, never had a co-star like Blake Griffin. He's never had supporting scorers like Jamal Crawford and J.J. Redick or a dominant rim-defender like DeAndre Jordan all at the same time.

This is his best chance yet. He knows this, whether we tell him or not.

"I've never been past the second round,and this is my ninth season," Paul said when prompted to put these playoffs into his own personal context. "I remember the team I was on in 2008 when we lost Game 7 (in the second round) to the Spurs, and you feel like you're always going to be back there, and that's not the case. The team here, I think is a special team."

Scrutiny of the stars is often fueled by the most obvious of blunders, that moment when a player leaves the kind of lasting memory that shapes the observer's perspective in the worst of ways whether it's an accurate read or not. James' frozen-statue routine in so many key moments of the Miami Heat's 2011 NBA Finals loss against the Dallas Mavericks made you wonder what was going on inside his head and his heart. Anthony's penchant for gunning his way out of all his problems leaves him exposed on all those nights when his shots aren't falling. Others like them — perhaps even the Thunder's Kevin Durant if he falls short in this postseason — have their own unmistakable warts that drive the debate as if it's on cruise control.

But Paul, even on his off-nights, makes it infinitely hard to find his faults. As one media member pointed out during the Clippers' deciding Game 7 win against the Warriors, the man never seems to lose a jump ball — no matter how large his opponent. He competes like it's his last game on most nights and raises the collective value of his teammates all the while, and then he changes gears when necessary like he did in Game 1.

The Clippers needed a scorer, so he became a scorer. Next time out, he'll do what his team needs again.

"I think that defines great players," Clippers teammate Willie Green said. "They're capable of doing whatever it takes to win basketball games. Some nights it's defense, some nights it's passing, some nights it's hitting big shots, taking charges, all the little things. That's why those guys are as great as they are and C.P. is one of them."

There was certainly nothing criticize on this night. Not that he would have heard us if we did.

GALLERY: Top 10 shooters of the second round

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