Chris Paul has the heavier load. Stephen Curry has the bigger burden. Whoever handles it the best gives his team the edge in Game 7 of this riveting series.

That's why the Warriors have real hope of winning Saturday night in Los Angeles.

Paul has had to do so much for the Clippers that his being less than 100 percent, which was the case in Game 6, has a multilayered effect on the Clippers. What's more, it's a weakness on which Curry can prey, which means the Warriors' most impactful player has an opening to make a bigger impact.

"He looks a little tired," TNT analyst Steve Kerr said of Paul. "I think the Warriors have worn him out a little bit. ... It's definitely possible for the Clippers to win without Chris Paul going nuts. I feel like if the Warriors are going to win, they will need a big game from Steph."

The Clippers are rightfully the favorites. They are the better, deeper team, and they are at home. They also have Blake Griffin coming off a down game, and the Warriors are thin up front.

But the Clippers are also under the most pressure, staring at an upset and a second-consecutive first-round exit in the playoffs. And, most important, Paul doesn't look healthy.

Paul's right hamstring woes appear to be mounting. And the heaviness of his task appears to be taking a toll. He chased Curry around feverishly for most of the first five games, exerting massive energy to keep Curry uncomfortable. On offense, he had to run the show with 6-foot-7, 210-pound Klay Thompson clinging to his every move.


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In Game 6, Paul wasn't so diligent about that assignment. Especially when Curry ran around screens, Paul couldn't keep up and was asking his teammates to switch.

Certainly, the Clippers can ride Griffin. And Jamal Crawford is more than capable of having a big game to carry the Clippers. But a hobbled Paul is relief for the Warriors.

While Paul seems to be breaking down, Curry seems to be getting stronger. Who'd have thought that a year ago, when Curry was laboring in the playoffs through yet another ankle injury?

He's getting more aggressive as the series progresses, figuring out the nuances of how to make plays against a formidable defense.

"It seemed they were trying to trap, and I had a better first step getting around," said Curry, who totaled 57 points in the last two games at Oracle. "Early in the game, I was able to get downhill and try to keep them honest and not let them go all out above the key to trap and take us out of our offense. So I've got to do that in Game 7 and just stick with the program when it comes to how to run our offense."

Life figures to be much easier for Curry if he's defended by Darren Collison or Matt Barnes. They're no slouches on that end but neither has Paul's combination of strength and quickness. That's a big deal for the Warriors because Curry is the straw that stirs the caramel frap.

The Warriors have a puncher's chance of stealing Game 7 if Curry can put together one of his dominant performances. Even without dominant big men, the Warriors usually play defense well enough to stay close. But they need 3s to fall, and Curry has a much better chance of draining some if Paul is indeed hobbled.

Plus, Paul has been less aggressive on offense, especially in the second half, which allowed Curry to guard him without much concern. On defense, he's bait when he isn't defending Curry. The Warriors have been posting up Thompson and Andre Iguodala against Paul.

"I'm OK. I'm OK," Paul implored after Game 6 when asked about his appearing to labor. "Tough game. Bumps and bruises. You get through it."

If he can't, that's probably just the opening Curry needs to finish off the Clippers.

Read Marcus Thompson II's blog at blogs.mercurynews.com/thompson. Contact him at mthomps2@bayareanewsgroup.com. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/ThompsonScribe.

ON GUARD

A look at how the per-game stats of Stephen Curry (left) and Chris Paul (right) compare during this series:

Curry Paul
21.3 Points 16.7
3.3 Rebounds 5.2
8.3 Assists 8.2