Having witnessed another untimely and unfortunate body failure, we can only conclude the Basketball Gods have beef with the Point God.
Chris Paul is perhaps the finest court general of this generation, and certainly the unluckiest, too, when it comes to injuries. The stinging pain he felt in his right shoulder Sunday in the Suns’ playoff opener — a 99-90 Phoenix win — was slightly more agonizing than the angst that anyone with a compassionate heart felt for him.
Yes, injuries are part of the game, but just as well, part of Paul’s legacy, which will someday come to a rest at the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. When he dropped to the floor in the second quarter of Game 1, the crowd noise inside Phoenix Suns Arena suddenly was reduced to a simmer. Head covered by a towel, and then the comforting right arm of LeBron James, Paul walked off the floor … and then returned, remarkably, for the second half.
That was the good news; his recovery from a shoulder contusion only served to throw another log into the belly fire of Devin Booker and the rest of the Suns, who ambushed the Lakers from the start and never relaxed.
The not so good news: Paul wasn’t fooling anyone. His right side was clearly affected. He essentially played left-handed the rest of the game, refusing to shoot with any frequency or confidence, dribbling carefully, never passing the eye test.
Fine. The Suns won anyway and lead the series over the defending champs, but can they expect similar results from here if Paul must play with one good arm?
Paul said he “absolutely” would be ready for Tuesday’s Game 2, believing he’ll have full range of motion by then. That’s comforting for a team that finally cracked the playoffs for the first time in 11 years and a player who wasn’t so blessed in the past after pulling up lame in the playoffs.
Paul took five shots after injuring his shoulder, making two, and no 3-point attempts, which would require a bit more arm strength. Strangely enough, the Lakers didn’t aggressively attack him whenever he dribbled, just one reason why they’re trailing this series.
Four times previously in his career, Paul suffered injuries during playoff series that either limited him or KO’d him, none more cruel than the hamstring pull in the 2018 Western Conference finals that bedeviled his chances of finally reaching The Finals for the first time. Paul and the Rockets were up 3-2 on the Warriors then.
That was heartbreak; this isn’t. His first season in the Valley has been nothing short of successful. Although the Suns did sparkle during the resumed season in the bubble last year — thank you, Mr. Booker — they needed the leadership and skill that Paul provided from the moment he arrived in a trade from Oklahoma City. Basically, this is Paul’s second such Buddha role in as many years; he carried the Thunder, who had less talent than Phoenix, to the playoffs and a seventh game against the Rockets.
The Suns went from not qualifying for the playoffs to the No. 2 seed, a remarkable one-season rise due partly by coach Monty Williams and Booker, but obviously also because of Paul. At age 36 he was an All-Star and generated Kia MVP chatter. Based on the results so far, he was right for the Suns and vice versa.
Paul only missed two games, finished among the league leaders in assists with almost nine per game, made half of his field goals and 40% from deep. And that doesn’t begin to explain the intangibles — such as rousting the potential out of Deandre Ayton — that make Paul a generational talent.
But back in 2012 Paul injured his groin and that proved costly to the LA Clippers, who were in the early stages of Lob City. In 2015 came another hamstring issue as Paul missed the first two games of LA’s semifinals series against the Rockets. The next playoffs, he broke his hand in the first game against the Portland Trail Blazers in the first round and the Clippers lost that series, too.
If it looks like a cursing and smells like a cursing, then what is it? Nothing else can explain why Paul, once again, must deal with discomfort, although this might not be as handicapping as the others.
Speaking of injuries: Anthony Davis is shooting only 41% since his return and easily was the most problematic Laker on the floor in Game 1. Ayton had more offensive rebounds (eight) than Davis had total boards (seven), and Davis was mostly invisible throughout the game, never making an impact — this, after scoring 42 points the last time these teams met.
He said: “There’s no way we’re winning a game, let alone a series, with me playing the way I played.”
If there’s any consolation for L.A., the Lakers lost Game 1 to Portland and Houston in 2020 restart bubble playoffs … and then grabbed a championship. So, folks can overreact at their own risk.
But: Chris Paul possibly not being 100 percent? That deserves a reaction.
* * *
The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.