“Classic Chris.” “The CP3 Show.” “A true competitor, and a true winner.”
Those are the words that Suns coach Monty Williams and his players used to describe Chris Paul’s 30-point, 10-assist and seven-rebound effort in their team’s 110-99 win over the Pelicans in Game 1 of the first round of the Western Conference playoffs on Sunday night. He became the oldest player in NBA history to record 30 points and 10 assists in a postseason game, passing former Suns guard Steve Nash for the honor.
In an effort that was emblematic of his career, Paul took over the fourth quarter by scoring 19 of his 30 points, negating a 28-13 run from New Orleans over the late-third and early-fourth quarter to cut a Suns’ double digit deficit to as few as six.
From pulling up at the 3-point line to slicing through the Pelicans’ defense with his tight handles, Paul turned in a performance that has been ever-so common through his 17 years in the NBA. Williams and others were not surprised by it.
“At the right time, he takes over and we needed it,” Williams said.
Paul’s showing was no different than he displayed during his first postseason with the Suns last summer. To close out the Nuggets in Game 4 of the Western Conference semifinals, he finished with 13 points in the fourth as part of a then-season high 37-point performance.
In Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals against his former team, the Clippers, Paul finished with 41 points on 16-of-24 shooting, with 27 of those points coming in the last 13 minutes of the game. Both scenarios happened when the Suns needed him most, and Sunday was no different.
After a 3-pointer from Pelicans forward Larry Nance Jr. with 9:41 remaining that cut the Suns’ lead to 87-81, Paul stopped above the 3-point line and drained a shot that gave Phoenix a nine-point lead. He followed it up with another triple on the Suns’ next possession, giving them a 93-83 advantage.
Paul then used a hesitation move to slice past Nance Jr. for a layup, forcing a Pelicans timeout. The Suns then rebuilt their lead to as high as 18 points and only led by single digits just once in the final eight minutes.
“He wants it that bad,” Devin Booker said. “You can see it in his demeanor, you can see it in his walk, so it shouldn’t surprise anybody. He’s built for these moments.”
Paul, who has made the postseason in 13 of his 17 years in the NBA, said former NBA guard Jamal Crawford approached him at halftime, urging him to shoot the ball. After reading the situation – Paul said he heard Pelicans coach and former Suns assistant Willie Green tell his teams to play under screens, allowing Paul more space to shoot off the pick-and-roll – Paul went to work, something the Suns needed to close the game.
“Just kind of take what the defense gives us,” Paul said. “When Book’s not in there, we always try to find another way to score. That’s playing off one another.”
Paul was one of three Suns players to exceed 20 points on Sunday, ahead of Booker (25) and Deandre Ayton (21). Ayton had multiple lob attempts from Booker and Paul in the first half, likely forcing the Pelicans to make a defensive adjustment in the fourth quarter.
“He (Paul) running middle pick and roll,” Williams said. “Couple times we did side pick and roll, but they were switching and the big backed up and he had a hot hand and he was knocking down shots and then there were a couple of times, he just got to the basket.
“I think the team set up having the shooters around him, allows for him to get to the paint and then [Ayton] and JaVale (McGee) diving, puts a lot of pressure on the rim.
Paul and the Suns began their 2022 playoff run the way they wanted to. While the team’s ultimate goal is 15 more wins to get an NBA championship, and to reach that goal they’ll likely need more big games from Paul, he said he’s focused on one game at a time.
“We watch games all day, every day,” Paul said. “We got to watch all the games yesterday, got to watch the games today and you know in the playoffs, teams aren’t just going to lay down.”