Chris Paul plans.
He planned when he forced a trade out New Orleans a decade ago. He planned when he creatively exploited a contract option to convince himself Houston. He planned when he helped change an arcane age rule in the collective agreement that allowed him to earn tens of millions of dollars in extra salary.
Even in moments after Paul’s Alone Fenice finished a 123-98 barrel of the visit Denver Nuggets on Wednesday to take the 2-0 lead in the Western Conference second round series, Paul was planning. In the locker room, knowing the Nuggets had returned twice last season from a 3-1 deficit, he was making his teammates think about Friday night’s Game 3 in Denver. Paul has told stories of going up 2-0 against the San Antonio Spurs in 2008 while in New Orleans, only to eventually lose in seven games.
But even on his rosiest drawing board, he probably couldn’t have seen the situation unfolding.
The Suns have won five consecutive playoff games and, with each win, they seem to get stronger and stronger. His longtime opponents are falling off the board. Stefano with curry it’s home. Lebron james it’s home. Injuries are on the rise across the league, and this time what Paul had in the playoffs – his sting in the shoulder that nearly ruined this run before it started – seems to have healed.
The Suns are healthy and play brilliantly as a group. In both matches of the second round, five players scored in double figures.
League folks are starting to talk about how this could be Paul’s best shot ever at an NBA final. It might be premature to say that considering his Rockets side were leading 3-2 over Golden State Warriors in the conference finals before a hamstring put him aside three years ago.
But after the routine disappointments with the LA Clippers and the near misses and incidents in Houston, this Rising Sols series looks like the most unexpected playoff situation of Paul’s career.
“I’m telling you,” said Paul after scoring 17 points with 15 assists and no turnover in Game 2. “I haven’t really been in a team like this.”
Working with the Oklahoma City Thunder, Paul he had high hopes when choosing a commercial destination last season. He wanted to be close to his family in Los Angeles, be in good weather and have the chance to play alongside a star; would have it inside Devin Booker. Represented by the same agency, Booker was desperate for help.
“I’m done not playing the playoffs”, Booker said three years ago, after a 21-61 season with the Phoenix. “I’m serious.”
After scoring a perfect 8-0 in the Orlando, Florida bubble to narrowly miss the playoffs in 2020, the Suns were up, but they weren’t seen as real contenders. Several people in their fan base and organization may have jumped to that conclusion as this special season unfolded, but now that it’s really happening, Paul is basking in the position he’s found himself in.
Booker was the star he believed in, with his 47-point closing game knocking out the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers being the gem so far. Paul can’t believe how effective his teammates are at shooting, with Jae Crowder, Mikal Bridges, Dario sarico, Cameron Johnson is Cameron Payne igniting the opposition from the outside.
Paul, who was Lob City’s hub with the Clippers and an offensive behemoth in Houston, said he has never seen anything like it.
“Everyone shoots,” said Paul. “You don’t have to try to find a certain guy. All [on our team] they are shooters on the ground. “
Chris Paul joins Deandre Ayton for a roaring two-handed slam.
During this five-game winning streak after the season, Paul has 53 assists and four turnovers. This is 53-4. With the best shoulder – he couldn’t even attempt long shots for several games in the previous round – he made 14 shots out of 24 and 4 out of 5 of 3 in this series. His two 3’s on Wednesday were fourth quarter daggers.
“He manages games better than anyone I’ve ever been around,” said Suns manager Monty Williams. “It’s not something I take for granted; it’s not something our team takes for granted. “
It is dangerous to think that this fable will continue; Paul’s playoff career is a long series of unexpected setbacks. But it’s also human nature to look at him, at the age of 36, and wonder if there’s any karma heading in his direction.
Outwardly, Paul will not allow it; has literally done dozens of commercials on insurance covering unforeseen disasters. But on the inside, he can probably see the road ahead and begin to feel some warmth.
“We’re fine,” said Paul. “We have guys who understand the moment.”