At one point in the third quarter, TNT color analyst and NBA Hall-of-Famer Reggie Miller raised his voice when Phoenix Suns starting point guard Chris Paul passed up an open corner 3-pointer.
“Something’s wrong with Chris Paul,” Miller said. “Because he should have took that 3-point shot.”
One play later, Paul was targeted by the Denver Nuggets’ offense, leading Miller and play-by-play commentator Kevin Harlan to voice more concern.
“You think (Nuggets guard Austin) Rivers that time knew that Paul is hurting with that shoulder?” Harlan asked.
“Clearly, he’s not 100 percent,” Miller said.
There was nothing then to dispute what Harlan and Miller were saying. Paul, the Suns’ unquestioned leader during the regular season, was undoubtedly not himself from an aggression standpoint. While he had seven first-half assists, he had just five points on five shots. In the third, he had just two points and missed all three of his shot attempts.
With Paul on the bench later that quarter, it appeared the Suns would be fine without him at full health. They went on a 25-7 run to end the third, taking an 88-79 lead into the fourth. The game was in their grasp — they just needed Paul to help them take it.
Instead, Paul single-handedly seized control of the final quarter of his team’s 122-105 win over the Denver Nuggets in Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals on Monday night at Phoenix Suns Arena. He had 14 of his 21 points in the period, including 10 consecutive points that momentarily ceased doubts of lingering effects from his right shoulder contusion suffered against the Los Angeles Lakers in the first round.
“It was just sort of trying to be aggressive, trying to stay aggressive,” Paul said. “I missed a lot of shots early, especially at the start of the third quarter and just knew, me and (starting shooting guard) [Devin Booker] play together, and he’s in and I’m in. So just trying to be more assertive.”
Paul was one of four Suns players to finish in double figures in scoring with 21 points on 8-of-14 shooting and had his first double-double of the postseason with 11 assists. He joined former Phoenix point guard Steve Nash and Utah point guard John Stockton as the only players 36 years or older with a 20-point, 10-assist playoff game in the last 30 years.
Chris Paul joins Steve Nash & John Stockton as the only players 36 years or older with 20 points and 10 assist in playoff game in the last 30 years. pic.twitter.com/QiifXcqBJE— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) June 8, 2021
Here is what Paul had to say after his team’s Game 1 victory.
On what allowed him to go on an individual scoring run in the fourth quarter:
“It was just sort of trying to be aggressive, trying to stay aggressive. I missed a lot of shots early, especially at the start of the third quarter and just knew, me and (starting shooting guard) [Devin Booker] play together, and he’s in and I’m in. So just trying to be more assertive.”
If his shoulder loosened up at any point during the game:
“Yeah, it definitely loosens up. One thing about it is, you don’t get like no practice time. The only way you get a chance to see how it is is in a game, so yeah. It was good, it was fun to be out there and get involved. That last series, that was tough. But I’m glad to be back helping the team.”
On what enabled the Suns’ 28-9 run to end the third quarter that built into a 42-14 spurt in the fourth:
“Just playing with pace. They got a nice little lead on us at the end of the third quarter, but our team and with the crowd. This crowd is crazy, it’s crazy to have the fans in there, the energy. There’s nothing like it, and I told the guys, ‘This is why we fought so hard during the regular season to get home court advantage.’ And I think we truly have that with our fanbase here.”
On what he felt like was working for the Suns with their ball movement:
“Just find the open man. That’s what I said all season long, we have a team. So if you try to take one of us out or whatnot, we make the right play. Who are you going to leave open? (Starting forward) Mikal (Bridges) is cash, (starting forward) Jae (Crowder) is cash, I could keep going on and on. So that’s the benefits of having a team.”
On what he felt contributed to the Suns’ second-half run:
“I don’t know, I wasn’t out there to end the third. It’s just, our team is like that man, I’m telling you. It’s fun to be on a team when we talked about it, it’s almost like wrestling us, like you’re tagging in. You go out the game and there’s no dropoff, it’s just another unit coming in keeping pressure on you. And I think that’s the benefits of having a team like we have and having (backup point guard) Cam Payne and all these guys. When I come out, it’s cool. It’s like, ‘These guys nice too.’”
On what backup wing Torrey Craig has brought to the Suns this season:
“Torrey man, we call him, ‘Big Country.’ Right out of South Carolina. He just done brought an energy to our team, one of the funniest guys in the locker room, and he just plays the right way. He do all the little things. First thing we noticed when he came to our team is his offensive rebounding. But even preparing us for this series and how he talks to us and tells us what we should expect, it’s so valuable to what we do.”
On what stood out about Bridges’ performance in Game 1:
“Mikal hit a big 3(-pointer) in the second half. But I’ll tell you, we’re really like brothers because we can say just about anything to each other, and I love that about him. He made a play in the first half where he tried to penetrate and he turned it over, and I was like, ‘You got to shoot it.’ And Mikal, he’s one of the best ‘3-and-D’ — not just ‘3,’ just whatever — and defense in the league and glad he’s on our team.”