NBA Playoffs 2021 – Chris Paul could not have provide you with a greater state of affairs for the Phoenix Suns
Chris Paul plans.
He was planning when he forced a trade out of New Orleans a decade ago. He was planning when he creatively used a contract option to come to Houston. He was planning on helping change an obscure age rule in the collective agreement that would give him the opportunity to earn tens of millions of dollars in extra pay.
Even in the moments after Paul’s Phoenix Suns closed a 123-98 wire against the visiting Denver Nuggets on Wednesday to take a 2-0 lead in their second-round series of the Western Conference, Paul had planned. In the locker room, knowing the Nuggets were coming back from trailing 3-1 twice last season, he got his teammates to think about Game 3 on Friday night in Denver. Paul shared stories of beating the San Antonio Spurs 2-0 in New Orleans in 2008, only to lose in seven games.
But even on his rosiest drawing board, he probably couldn’t have seen the situation developing.
The Suns have won five playoff games in a row and seem to get stronger with each win. His long-time opponents fall off the board. Stephen Curry is at home. LeBron James is at home. Injuries are mounting across the league and this time the one Paul had in the playoffs – his shoulder spike that almost ruined that run before it started – appears to be healed.
The suns are healthy and play great as a group. In both games of the second round, five players scored double digits.
People across the league are starting to talk about how this could be Paul’s best shot ever in an NBA final. It may be premature to say that his Rockets team were 3-2 ahead of the Golden State Warriors in the conference finals before a hamstring sidelined him three years ago.
But after the routine disappointments with the LA Clippers and the disappointments and near-misses in Houston, this Rising Sun series feels like the most unexpected playoff situation in Paul’s career.
“I’ll tell you,” said Paul after scoring 17 points with 15 assists and no losses in Game 2. “I’ve really never been on a team like this before.”
Working with the Oklahoma City Thunder, Paul had multiple hopes when selecting a trading destination this past off-season. He wanted to be close to his family in Los Angeles, have good weather and the chance to play alongside a star; he would have that in Devin Booker. Represented by the same agency, Booker desperately sought help.
“I’m done not making the playoffs,” Booker said three years ago after a 21-61 season at Phoenix. “I’m serious.”
After a perfect 8-0 in the Orlando, Florida bubble to narrowly miss the 2020 playoffs, the Suns were on the up mobile – but they weren’t seen as real contenders. Various people in their fan base and organization may have come to this conclusion over the course of this particular season, but now that it actually happens, Paul basks in the position he found himself in.
Booker was the star he believed in, with his 47-point closeout game beating defending champions Los Angeles Lakers being the gem so far. Paul can’t believe how effective his teammates are at shooting. Jae Crowder, Mikal Bridges, Dario Saric, Cameron Johnson and Cameron Payne illuminate the opponents from the outside.
Paul, who was the centerpiece of Lob City with the Clippers and an offensive juggernaut in Houston, said he had never seen anything like it.
“Everyone shoots,” said Paul. “You don’t have to try to find a specific guy [on our team] are knockdown shooters. “
Chris Paul connects with Deandre Ayton for a roaring two-handed slam.
During that streak of five post-season games, Paul has 53 assists and four turns. That’s 53-4. With his better shoulder – he couldn’t even attempt long shots for several games in the preliminary round – he made 14 of 24 shots and 4 of 5 3-point throws in this series. His two threesomes on Wednesday were fourth quarter daggers.
“He plays games better than anyone I’ve ever seen,” said Suns coach Monty Williams. “For me this is not a matter of course, for our team it is not a matter of course.”
It is dangerous to believe that this fairy tale will go on; Paul’s playoff career has been a long series of unexpected setbacks. But it is also in man’s nature to watch him at the age of 36 and wonder if a little karma is going his way.
Outwardly Paul will not allow it; he’s shot literally dozens of commercials about insurance covering unexpected disasters. But inside he can probably see the road ahead and begin to feel some warmth.
“We’re cool,” said Paul. “We have people who understand the moment.”