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 when he helped change an obscure age rule in the collective agreement that would give him the chance of an extra double-digit million dollar salary.
Even in the moments after Paul’s Phoenix Suns finished a 125-98 dreshing for the Denver Nuggets to take a 2-0 lead, Paul 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 wouldn’t have been able to see the situation developing.
The Suns have won five playoff games in a row and seem to be getting stronger with each win. His longstanding opponents fall off the board. Stephen Curry is at home. LeBron James is home. Injuries are mounting across the league and this time Paul’s shoulder spike, which almost ruined that run before it began, 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 all over the league are starting to talk about how this could be Paul’s best shot ever in a final. It is perhaps premature to say that his Houston Rockets team led 3-2 in the conference finals against the Golden State Warriors before being knocked out by a hamstring three years ago.
But after the routine disappointments at the LA Clippers and the disappointments and near-misses in Houston, this rising sun streak 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 several 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. “I’m serious.”
After a perfect 8-0 in Orlando 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 was in.
Booker was the star he believed in, and his 47-point closeout game to take out the Champion Lakers has been the gem so far. Paul can’t believe how effective his teammates are at shooting. Jae Crowder, Mikal Bridges, Dario Saric, Cam Johnson and Cameron Payne set fire to opponents from outside.
Paul, who was the centerpiece of Lob City with the Clippers and an offensive juggernaut in Houston, says he’s never seen anything like it.
“Everyone shoots,” said Paul. “You don’t have to try to find a specific guy [on our team] are knock-down shooters. “
Chris Paul connects with Deandre Ayton for a roaring two-handed slam.
During the five-game winning streak, Paul has 53 assists and four turnover. That’s 53-4. With his better shoulder – he couldn’t even attempt long shots for several games in the last round – he made 14 of 24 shots and 4 of 5 3-points 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, nor is it for our team.”
It’s dangerous to believe this fairy tale continues, Paul’s playoff career is a long string of unexpected setbacks. But it is also in man’s nature to watch him at the age of 36 and wonder if a bit of karma is going his way.
Outwardly, Paul won’t let it, he’s done literally dozens of commercials about insurance for 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.”