Chris Paul is planning.
He planned when he forced a trade out of New Orleans a decade ago. He planned when he creatively took advantage of a contract opportunity to get to Houston. He planned when he would help change an arcane age rule in the collective agreement that allowed him to earn tens of thousands of dollars in extra pay.
Even in the moments after Paul’s Phoenix Suns completed a 125-98 thrash of the visiting Denver Nuggets on Wednesday to take a 2-0 lead in their Western Conference second-round series, Paul planned. In the locker room, knowing the Nuggets came back twice last season with a 3-1 deficit, he made his teammates think of Game 3 on Friday night in Denver. Paul told stories of going up 2-0 against the San Antonio Spurs in 2008 while he was with New Orleans, eventually losing in seven games.
But even on his most rosy drawing board, he probably could not have seen the situation unfold.
The Suns have won five playoff games straight and seem to get stronger with each win. His longtime opponents fall off the board. Stephen Curry is home. LeBron James is home. Injuries are growing all over the league, and this time Paul seems to be in the playoffs ̵
The suns are healthy and play brilliantly as a group. In both games in the second round, five players have scored in double figures.
People around the league are starting to talk about how this could be Paul’s best shot ever in an NBA Finals. It may be too early to say that given that his Rockets team was up 3-2 at the Golden State Warriors in the conference finals before a hoarding move ruled him out three years ago.
But after the routine disappointments with the LA Clippers and the failure and near-mishaps of Houston, this rising Suns streak feels like the most unexpected playoff situation in Paul’s career.
“I tell you,” Paul said after scoring 17 points with 15 assists and no turnovers in the 2nd game. “I really have not been on a team like this.”
In partnership with the Oklahoma City Thunder, Paul had several hopes when he chose a trading destination last offseason. He wanted to be close to his family in Los Angeles, be in good weather and have a shot at playing next to a star; he wanted that in Devin Booker. Represented by the same agency, Booker was desperate for help.
“I’m done not playing playoffs,” Booker said three years ago after a 21-61 season. “I am serious.”
After going a perfect 8-0 in Orlando to narrowly miss the playoffs in 2020, the Suns were on the rise mobile – but they were not seen as real providers. Different people in their fan base and organization may have come to that conclusion when this particular season unfolded, but now that it’s actually happening, Paul basks in the position he found himself in.
Booker has been the star he believed his 47-point close-up game to knock out the champion Lakers was 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 highlighting the opposition from the outside.
Paul, who was the center of Lob City with the Clippers and on an offensive juggernaut in Houston, says he has never seen anything like it.
“Everyone is shooting,” Paul said. “You do not have to try to find a specific guy. Everyone [on our team] are discouraging shooting games. “
Chris Paul connects with Deandre Ayton for a roaring two-handed slam.
During the five-game winning streak, Paul has 53 assists and four turnovers. It’s 53-4. With his shoulder better – he could not even try long shots in multiple games in the final round – he made 14 of 24 shots and 4-of-5 3-pointers in this series. His two 3s on Wednesday were daggers in the fourth quarter.
“He manages games better than anyone I’ve ever been around,” Suns coach Monty Williams said. “It’s not something I take for granted, it’s not something our team takes for granted.”
It’s dangerous to think that this adventure will continue, Paul’s playoff career is a series of unexpected setbacks. But it is also human nature to see him at the age of 36 and wonder if there is any karma that is heading in his direction.
Externally, Paul does not allow what he has literally done dozens of advertisements about insurance covering unexpected disasters. But inwardly, he can probably see the way forward and begin to feel some warmth.
“We’re cool,” Paul said. “We have guys who understand the moment.”