Chris Paul plans.
He planned when he forced a trade out of New Orleans a decade ago. He planned when he creatively took advantage of a contract option to Houston. He planned when he helped change a dark age rule in the collective agreement that earned him tens of millions of dollars in extra pay.
Even in the moments after Paul’s Phoenix Suns finished one 125-98 beating of the Denver Nuggets to take a 2-0 lead in the series, Paul was planning. In the locker room, knowing the Nuggets came back twice last season from 3-1 deficits, he reminded his teammates in Game 3 on Friday night in Denver. Paul told stories of going 2-0 against the San Antonio Spurs in 2008 while with New Orleans, eventually losing in seven games.
But even on his pinkest drawing board, he probably wouldn’t have been able to see the situation at hand.
The Suns have won five straight playoff games and, with each win, seem to get stronger and stronger. His longtime opponents are falling off the table. Stephen curry is at home. James lebron is at home. Injuries are piling up in the league and this time the one Paul had in the playoffs, his shoulder sting that almost destroyed this run before it started, appears to be healed.
The Suns are healthy and play brilliantly in groups. In the two matches of the second round, five players scored in double digits.
People around the league are starting to talk about how this could be Paul’s best move ever in a final. It may be premature to say that given his Houston rockets the team led 3-2 on the Golden State Warriors in the conference final before a hamstring pull ruled him out three years ago.
But after the routine disappointments with the LA mowers and disappointments and near misses in Houston, this streak of rising Suns 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 turnovers in Game 2. “I really haven’t been part of a team like this.”
Work with the Thunder of Oklahoma City, Paul had several hopes when choosing a business destination during the last offseason. He wanted to be close to his family in Los Angeles, have good weather and have a chance to play alongside a star; he would have that in Devin Booker. Represented by the same agency, Booker was desperate for help. “I’m done with not making the playoffs”, Booker said three years ago after a 21-61 season. “I’m serious.”
After pulling off a perfect 8-0 in Orlando to narrowly miss the playoffs in 2020, the Suns were moving upward – but they weren’t seen as real contenders. Different people in their fan base and organization may have jumped at this conclusion as this special season unfolded, but now that it’s actually happening, Paul is lounging around in the position he is in. .
Booker was the star he believed in, his 47-point closing game to eliminate the Lakers champion being the gem so far. Paul can’t believe how effective his teammates are at shooting, with Jae Crowder, Mikal Bridges, Dario saric, Cam Johnson and Cameron Payne enlighten the opposition from the outside.
Paul, who was the centerpiece of Lob City with the Clippers and on an offensive juggernaut in Houston, says he’s never seen anything like it.
“Everyone’s shooting,” Paul said. “You don’t have to try to find a certain type. Everyone [on our team] are shooters on the ground. “
Chris Paul connects with Deandre Ayton for a roaring two-handed slam.
During the five-game winning streak, Paul had 53 assists and four turnovers. It’s 53-4. With his better shoulder – he couldn’t even attempt long shots for several games in the last round – he had 14 of 24 and 4 of 5 3-pointers in this series. His two Wednesday 3s were fourth quarter daggers.
“He handles games better than anyone I’ve ever been with,” said Suns coach Monty Williams. “It’s not something I take for granted, it’s not something our team takes for granted.”
It’s dangerous to think this fairy tale will continue, Paul’s playoff career is a long series of unexpected setbacks. But it’s also human nature to look at him, at 36, and wonder if there’s any karma going in his direction.
Outwardly Paul won’t allow it, he has literally done dozens of insurance advertisements covering unexpected catastrophes. But inside, he can probably see the road ahead and start to feel a little warmth.
“We’re cool,” said Paul. “We have guys who understand the moment.”