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The wait is over: Chris Paul is in the NBA Finals with the Suns

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It was a journey 16 years in the making

NBA: Playoffs-Phoenix Suns at Los Angeles Clippers Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

The wait is finally over.

After 16 seasons of frustrations, unfortunate circumstances and injuries, Phoenix Suns starting point guard Chris Paul advanced to his first career NBA Finals with the Suns’ 130-103 win over the Los Angeles Clippers in Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals on Wednesday night.

Paul, in true ‘Point God’ fashion, took over the game in the second half, scoring 31 of his game-high 41 points on a total of 18-of-24 shooting with eight assists and four rebounds. After the Clippers’ went on a 10-0 run to cut a 17-point Suns lead in the third quarter to 89-82, Paul responded with an 8-0 run of his own and scored 24 of his points from 1:28 left in the third to 5:49 in the fourth, pushing them to a runaway victory.

It was a performance that Suns coach Monty Williams, who began his head coaching career with Paul in New Orleans in 2010-11, was especially grateful for.

“There was questions about his production before tonight, and in my heart, I felt like it was a matter of time,” Williams said. “I didn’t know it was going to be like that. That’s who Chris is, he was tired and he was still making those kinds of plays. Getting to the basket, threes, orchestrating everything. I’m grateful that I get to coach him again.”

Paul and the Suns will face the winner of the Atlanta Hawks and Milwaukee Bucks Eastern Confeeence Finals series in the NBA Finals, which are scheduled to begin on Thursday, July 8.

Here is what Paul had to say after arguably his greatest performance in his career.

On what it felt like when he took over the game in the second half and got closer to his first NBA Finals appearance:

“I don’t even know right now. I just remember when we was up 17, I came out the game and looked up, and we was up like five or seven. And you just always know these closeout games are tough, and I watch every game every night and you just always see the Clippers, they make a run. Third quarter, fourth quarter, they get it going and it seemed like that was happening.”

If receiving the Western Conference championship trophy was a culmination of thoughts he had about this moment:

“It’s been a lot, telling you. Told y’all I was getting an MRI yesterday on my wrist and done had all these surgeries over the years. [Tony] (Nila), the equipment guy in Houston (which he helped advance to the Western Conference Finals before losing to the Golden State Warriors in 2018), I remember we was up 3-2 and I didn’t get to play those last two games in Houston. Tone had the T-shirt and hat (for winning the conference title), you know what I mean? And I never got a chance to get it. Like, I’ll never forget that. Never forget that. And Jay (Gaspar), our trainer here, equipment guy here, Jay texted me a couple days ago and said, ‘C, I got the T-shirt and the hat. All you got to do is do your part.’ So that’s the only thing that I was thinking about, is the process. Just getting us one step closer to where we’re going to be.”

On what it was like staying locked in while recording a 30-point second half:

“Yeah man. They had a lot of experiences. A lot of ups and downs. We was up, like five minutes left, (Suns starting forward) Jae (Crowder) was like, ‘C, can you taste it? Can you feel it?’ Like, woah, hey, he was saying some stuff and I was like, ‘Nah, nah.’ I was like, ‘Nah, I’m going to stay locked in.’ And it just felt good. I mean, like (Suns starting shooting guard) [Devin Booker] plays with an edge, and I’m the same way. Over the years, people talk junk to me, a lot of times I’ll usually say something back. But I done changed a little, a little. And I just kept thinking, ‘If we do what we supposed to do, I’ll get the last laugh.’ You stay the course long enough, you break them. And that’s what we did.”

If he felt like the Suns broke the Clippers mentally once guard Patrick Beverley was ejected for shoving him in the back:

“Yeah, yeah. It hurt. It sting. It sting.”

On the emotions going through his head after the game:

“Man, I was just happy and proud of our team. (Suns coach) [Monty Williams] not winning (NBA) Coach of the Year, but we know who he is. Hell man, I experienced COVID(-19) just a week ago. I was here (in Los Angeles) at home, couldn’t be there with my teammates and that’s what you call, ‘Next man up.’ They won two games in this series without me, and it just shows you how crazy it is. First series, got the nerve thing. Win the second series, ended up with COVID. It’s been a lot man, and I just — I want it not just for myself, but for everybody in that locker room.”

On what it was like to go up against his former team:

“Man, it’s crazy because Jasen Powell, their head trainer over there, is family. We usually talk all the time, and we ain’t talk this whole series. (Clippers assistant and recently-appointed Portland Trail Blazers coach) Chauncey (Billups) is my family, like my brother, my brother. And we ain’t talk this whole series. I’m so happy for him getting a head coaching job, because me and him talked about it during my quarantine, about what his next thing is going to be. And when he said he was going to be a coach, I was like, ‘You’re going to be the best coach there is.’ Because when we played together here, we used to be in our lockers right next to each other drawing up plays. So it’s been hard not to tell him, ‘Congratulations.’ It’s a lot of ties. (Clippers Director of Communications) Dennis Rogers, who was with me for, y’all know. D-Rog, that’s my family. When you get to the arena for a game like this and you walk past and don’t even speak, these are people who mean a lot to me. So to be in a series against them to get to this is special.”

On how he became a player who keeps his composure in difficult situations, like when he and Clippers center Demarcus Cousins had an incident at the end of the third quarter:

“Those who do, do. You can do it, you do it. I think I’ve just been on the other end of so many losses, and I know what that feel like. Before the game, me and Jae was talking about it. We’ve put the work in. If you put the work in, then you live with the outcome. We work, we’re a work team. The past two or three games, I’ve been playing with my fingers buddy-taped. These two (appeared to be his right index and middle fingers). And at shootaround today I said, ‘I ain’t doing that. I ain’t doing that tonight.’ And Book said he wasn’t playing with his mask on either. And so it was good to see it all come together.”

On wearing a Winston-Salem, North Carolina hat, where he is from, in his press conference:

“Winston-Salem, that’s me. Born and raised. Like I always say, all these years, like we still got a ways to go. We still got four wins. But all these years, I still had my hometown and my family right there with me. Like I said, it ain’t just for me. Ask Jae, I got an extra hat and T-shirt so I can take it to my brother (CJ). My brother, my whole career, he didn’t miss one playoff game I played in, home or away. So any time you win something like that, it’s for my brother always.”

On his relationship with his brother:

“It’s just us, it’s just us. I ain’t got no sisters or nothing like that — it’s just me and my brother. And my brother has been with me since Day 1, literally. Everybody know my brother. The referees know my brother. Everybody knows my brother because he’s there. Like some people be there, but my brother is there. He always there. He tell me what I don’t want to hear, and he just, I mean, I love him to death.”

On celebrating the win:

“You got to know, like I told you, Billy Crystal and his wife, the Hernandez family, (former Disney CEO Bob) Iger, like I played six years here, and a lot of these fans became my family. (Suns assistant coach) Willie (Green), he talked to me about [Allen Iverson] all the time, who AI is obviously a hero of mine, texts me after every game. AI texts me after every game, and so Willie just said, If I could do it all over again, would I have left? And I said, ‘Yeah, because I learned a lot of stuff along the way.’ And this is like a storybook for this part, getting to somewhere that I’ve never been before going against a team that I’ll always be connected to.”

If he ever thought that a trip to the NBA Finals wouldn’t happen through all the injuries he went through:

“Nope. Nope. I ain’t built like that. It’s just, get to work. Get to work. What was it, Game 3? I found out I partially tore some ligaments in my hand, I was like, ‘Ah, here we go.’ But I got an unbelievable team around me. A lady named Ann, you’ve probably seen her. I hugged her when I walked off the court. She’s been at every road game, home game, working on me, just trying to get me right for everything. So I’m appreciative to my team around me, my chef, all this. It’s a gang. It’s a real-life gang that puts it all together.”

If winning the Western Conference hits him differently given his injuries in the past:

“Yeah, yeah, just because it’s a lot. Big thanks to (Oklahoma City Thunder general manager) Sam Presti for even allowing all this to happen. I think back to my first conversations with Book, (Suns general manager) James Jones and all this stuff that had to happen in order for us to get here. It’s just part of the process.”

On how he has approached his leadership role this season:

“Experience. Just leadership, experience. Like when they made that run, they jumped up, they yelling over there on the bench or whatnot. But I just stayed there and was like, ‘OK, it’s cool.’ Because you learn how to deal with different guys, and if you go crazy like that, that might make them a little bit nervous or gunshot. But I’m grateful for all the experiences, good or bad, and just going to keep enjoying the process.”

On working out with Booker the day he was traded and how their partnership has evolved:

“The trade happened, I want to say it was on a Monday. And then that Tuesday morning, I flew in and we at the gym and Johnny (Mak), our trainer, worked us out. And then I had to leave and go shoot a State Farm commercial. It was all in one day. And I don’t know, it’s been cool man. Because you think about it — like that first or second week of the season, coach met with us and said we had the worst starting five in the league. We had the worst starting five in the league, plus-minus. Me and Book, we talked about it and throughout the season, we figured it out.”