Chris Paul has been one of the best point guards in NBA history for 16 years. He’s probably done his best work in the past two seasons, culminating with an epic performance last night to lead Phoenix into the NBA Finals for the first time since 1993.
Paul spent six seasons as the floor general for the Los Angeles Clippers, suffering heartache galore every postseason as they failed to get past the Western Conference semifinals. A lot of it was bad luck that included injuries to Paul, who broke his thumb in one of the Clippers’ best chances to get to the West finals on his watch.
That piss-poor postseason luck continued when Paul went to the Rockets, who had a 3-2 series lead on Golden State in the West finals when Paul sustained a hamstring injury that prevented him from playing in Games 6 and 7. The Warriors got past Houston with Paul in street clothes and went on to win the NBA title.
Houston traded Paul to a rebuilding Oklahoma City franchise prior to the 2019-20 campaign. Many felt it was a brief stop before Paul would be traded to a contender, perhaps the Miami Heat.
But even though it was late in his career that was still missing an NBA ring, Paul didn’t bitch and moan and force his way out of OKC. Instead, he led a young team to the playoffs where it took Houston to seven games before being eliminated.
OKC dealt Paul to a Phoenix squad with a lot of young talent, but the Suns hadn’t been to the playoffs in a decade. With CP3 leading the way, however, Phoenix earned the No. 1 seed in the West.
In typical bad luck for Paul in the postseason, the Suns drew the Lakers, the defending NBA champions who were the No. 8 seed because they dealt with key injuries to Anthony Davis and LeBron James during the regular season.
Then Paul hurt his shoulder in a Game 1 win that limited him for the next couple of games. However, trailing the series 2-1, the Suns upset the Lakers on the road as underdogs in Game 4 and went on to win the series in six games.
The Clippers finally advanced to the West finals for the first time in franchise history, only to have Paul waiting for them as their opponent. In a back-and-forth series with close games galore, Phoenix went into last night’s Game 6 at Staples Center looking for the kill shot with a 3-2 series lead.
Paul scored 31 of his 41 points in the second half, including an 8-0 run of his own after the Clippers trimmed a double-digit deficit to seven points with a 10-0 surge. The Suns went on to capture a 130-103 win in a pick ’em affair.
“I just kept thinking, if we do what we’re supposed to do, I get the last laugh,” Paul said afterward. “So you stay the course long enough, you break ’em, and that’s what we did.”
The shoulder injury wasn’t the only obstacle Paul had to overcome this postseason. Just a few days before the West finals were set to start, Paul was put into the NBA’s health and safety protocols after testing positive for COVID-19. This caused him to miss the first two games of the series, and his rust was evident with his perimeter shooting woes in Games 3, 4 and 5.
After last night’s win, Paul said that an MRI this week revealed partially torn ligaments in his right (shooting) hand.
Nevertheless, Paul was feeling it last night when he drained 7-of-8 launches from 3-point land, 16-of-24 field-goal attempts and 2-of-3 free throws. He also had four rebounds, three steals and eight assists without a turnover.
It was a masterful performance, one befitting the future Hall of Famer in one of his greatest career moments. Of course, he’s still four wins away from the ultimate goal, one that’ll have to go through the winner of Atlanta and Milwaukee in the East finals.