At 36 years old and in his 16th NBA season, Chris Paul has delivered nothing short of excellence in his first year with the Phoenix Suns. Wednesday night was another prime example of it.
In his team’s 123-95 win over the Denver Nuggets in Game 2 of the Western Conference semifinals at Phoenix Suns Arena, Paul contributed a 17-point, 15-assist outing with zero turnovers. According to Statmuse, it was his third career playoff game with 15-plus points, 15-plus assists and no turnovers, which has happened only three other combined times in the 3-point era (dating back to 1979-80).
Paul also broke a tie with Hall-of-Fame point guard Magic Johnson for the most playoff games with 15-plus assists and zero turnovers in that span.
Chris Paul tonight:— StatMuse (@statmuse) June 10, 2021
It’s his 3rd career playoff game with 15+ assists and 0 turnovers — breaking a tie with Magic Johnson for the most since the three-point era (1980). pic.twitter.com/pQRpy9VY7f
Paul and the Suns now lead the Nuggets two games to none as the series moves to Denver for Game 3 on Friday night at 7 p.m. MT.
“He manages games better than anybody that I’ve ever been around,” Williams said. “He just understands once he gets an idea of the offense and the guys he’s playing with, he has the ability to use his talents to make everybody else better, and then he knows when to take over in moments.
“And his ability to take care of the ball, even when he has it a lot, it’s not something I take for granted, our team doesn’t take it for granted. It’s why he’s been successful everywhere he’s been.”
Paul had six of his assists in the third quarter alone, a period the Suns won 34-25 and built a lead as large as 22 points while making six 3-pointers as a team.
And then for the second straight contest, Paul helped the Suns close the game in the fourth quarter, scoring eight of his 17 points in the period. Overall, he finished with a 6-of-10 mark from the field, including 2-of-2 from 3-point range, and also had five rebounds.
For the series, Paul is now averaging 19.0 points on 58.3 percent shooting along with 13.0 assists, 5.5 rebounds. He has eclipsed double-digit assists in each of the Suns’ last three games, totaling 38 assists against just two turnovers in that span.
According to Stathead, that is the most assists by a player with two or fewer turnovers over a three-game stretch, dating back to at least 1983-84. Paul also became the fourth Suns player to record at least 15 assists in a playoff game and joined Jason Kidd as the only Phoenix players to do so with zero turnovers.
“With the way that we played, the ball is going to find you,” Paul said. “We got so many great shooters on our team and guys that not only shoot it, but they put it on the floor. So we just played the way we’ve been playing all season long and that’s our team.”
Here’s more on what Paul said following the Suns’ win.
His thoughts on his team’s play in Game 2:
“Just our approach to the game. (Phoenix Suns coach) [Monty Williams] always says, ‘Don’t get happy on the farm,’ and I think that’s the thing for our team, just staying the course. Understanding that we won Game 1 and we did what we was supposed to do in just winning the first two games.”
On how he is feeling out the fourth quarters of the last two games:
“Just feeling the game out. Feeling the game out. I feel good, I feel really good and I missed some easy ones early or whatnot. But with the way that we played, the ball is going to find you. We got so many great shooters on our team and guys that not only shoot it, but they put it on the floor. So we just played the way we’ve been playing all season long and that’s our team.”
On what has been the difference for the Suns in the fourth quarter lately:
“I don’t know. I got to go back and watch it. I’m such in the moment when the game’s going on, just trying to figure out how we can win it. But when we start that fourth quarter, we understand the importance of it. And whether we start with the first possession or we don’t, getting a stop and playing with the right pace. And this crowd right here, I’ll tell you, it helps a lot. And that’s we just talked about in the locker room — we got to make sure we travel with the same energy.”
On how he thinks the team will handle two big victories before Friday’s Game 3:
“We’re cool, we’re cool. We got a great locker room, guys that understand the moment and a guy like (starting forward) Jae Crowder, who’s been to the (NBA) Finals, he’s been through a lot. I done played a lot too, and I’m always talking about [2007-08] when we played against the (San Antonio) Spurs when I was in New Orleans. We won the first two games, beat the brakes off of them. I remember looking over there at (former Spurs forward) Tim (Duncan) and all them, and they weren’t fazed. It’s one game. So that’s what we talk about as a team, too. Just one game, now we got to lock in and focus and get ready to go to Denver.”
On his impressions of the Suns’ fans in the fourth quarter, when a child took off his shirt on camera and the crowd did the wave:
“Man, it’s crazy. It got a little loud, then it got louder, then it got crazy. I remember covering my ears and coach was like, ‘Chris, get back in the huddle.’ It just shows you how important the fans are to the game. Obviously, the Bubble was an experience last year but it’s nothing like having the fans at the games and their energy. I missed it.”
On what makes the Suns’ starting five so special:
“The depth in what everybody brings. (Starting shooting guard) [Devin Booker] scores in his sleep, he defends. He’s one of the best two-way players in the league, and we feed off that. And then we got so many weapons — Jae isn’t fazed by anything. Take a big shot, he’s going to defend whoever you ask him to. (Starting forward) Mikal (Bridges) is like our unsung hero, guards everybody, shotmaking, drive, everything. And then (starting center) [Deandre Ayton]. DA, can’t ask for more from somebody like him. He guards, he runs, he rebounds, he does everything. He’s literally been our MVP in the postseason so far.”
On recording 15 assists without a turnover for the third time in his playoff career and what enabled that in Game 2:
“Guys are open. I got the easy part, all I got to do is find them. They got to make the shots. It’s a credit to our coaching staff, to tell you the truth. Because the things that we drilled all season long, it’s so nice to see when they come into play in game form, especially in the playoffs. We’ve drilled point-five, make the next pass and trust. And that’s how we play.”
On Ayton picking up two fouls in the first quarter and not recording another for the remainder of the game:
“I think the best part of it was that DA got on our ass. He was mad, he was mad at us and I loved it, because rightfully so, he was right. We got to protect him, we got to help him and it just shows the growth — not only in him, but our whole team. There’s so much onus on him night in and night out, we’re asking him to rebound, we’re asking him to screen, we’re asking him to roll. He’s just out there playing hard, and to see him bounce back from those two fouls and have the game that he did is great.”
If he is able to detect who’s in a rhythm during the game or if it’s natural from team chemistry:
“It’s a natural chemistry — that’s a good question. Sometimes, you do feel when a guy gets hot. When Book got it going, you may call an [inaudible] for him. But I’m telling you man, really haven’t been on a team quite like this where everybody shoots it the way that they do. So you don’t have to try to find a certain guy. If a guy helps in, and I see Mikal over there or (backup wing) Cam Johnson or (backup point guard) Cam Payne or whoever it is, everybody are knockdown shooters. So you’re just literally making reads.”
On his block on Denver Nuggets point guard Facundo Campazzo early in the game:
“I fouled him. That’s what it was, I was surprised it wasn’t called. That’s what it was, I fouled him and I told him.”