Chris Paul wanted to be traded to the Phoenix Suns. He wanted to play with All-Star guard Devin Booker, and he wanted to be coached by Monty Williams, who led him with the New Orleans Hornets in 2010-11.
All mostly went well for Paul and the Suns in their first year as a partnership, snapping a 10-year playoff drought with the team advancing to its first NBA Finals since the 1992-93 season. It was a special season for Paul, who had not made the championship round before, and Phoenix, which had been gutted in NBA poverty for the last several seasons.
But the pairing wasn’t enough to elevate the Suns to their first championship in franchise history. Paul and Phoenix’s season came to an end on Tuesday night with a 105-98 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks in Game 6 of the NBA Finals at Fiserv Forum in Milwaukee.
Paul finished with a team-best 26 points on 11-of-19 shooting with five assists and two rebounds. It was his highest scoring effort since Game 1 of the Finals, when he had 32 points on 12-of-19 shooting with nine assists and four rebounds.
After going 19-63 in 2019, the 2020 Suns went undefeated in the bubble but still missed the playoffs— SB Nation (@SBNation) July 21, 2021
• traded for Chris Paul
• finished 52-21
• eliminated the Lakers
• swept the Nuggets
• defeated the Clippers
What a run for the Phoenix Suns pic.twitter.com/XS0bAclJJd
“It’s tough,” Paul said after the game. “Great group of guys, hell of a season, but this one is going to hurt for a while.”
After the game, Williams called Paul a “generational player,” giving his career massive credit despite an outside perspective that his legacy is perhaps tainted by having never won an NBA championship.
Chris Paul man. More like him. pic.twitter.com/6qEVWZnYR3— Trevor Booth (@TrevorMBooth) July 21, 2021
“It’s laughable when you talk about guys like Chris who have had these unreal careers and yet they get penalized because they haven’t won a title,” Williams said. “You know, that was my goal was to win it for him and Book, those guys have carried us all year.
“And Chris, this is my second time coaching him, I know what he puts into his craft, I know the dedication and so when I hear those sentiments about his career because he hasn’t won a championship, it’s just silly. It’s hard enough to make it to the NBA, let alone be an all-time great, which is what he is.”
Here is what Paul had to say to the media after the Suns’ loss.
On why he felt like the Suns were unable to close the game:
“I ain’t seen a box score. It felt like a lot of turnovers. Come out to start the third quarter we had a few wide open shots, didn’t knock them down. Then it was the same old thing, just about every game, the free throws. You know what I mean? They made timely shots, we didn’t. We didn’t get stops when we needed to and they just beat us.”
On what it means for him to advance to the NBA Finals in his first season with the Suns:
“I mean, I’ll take some time to think about that, but right now you’re just trying to figure out what you could have did more. It’s tough. Great group of guys, hell of a season, but this one is going to hurt for a while.”
On what the emotions in the Suns’ locker room were like:
On what it means to have reached the NBA Finals for the first time in his career:
“For me it just means back to work. Back to work. Nothing more, nothing less. Ain’t no moral victories or whatnot. We sort of saw what it takes to get there and hopefully we see what it takes to get past that.
“Feels like we just lost. You know what I mean? So, yeah.”
If there’s any solace in knowing he made the Finals and can learn from it:
On a decision he has to make between opting out or signing an extension with his contract:
“We just lost a few minutes ago, you know what I mean? Right now we’re going to process this and figure this out. I think everything else will take care of itself.”
On the Suns’ growth with Booker and starting center Deandre Ayton:
“We grew all season long. Especially starting out the way we did. Nobody probably expected us to be where we are except for us. But it is what it is. Like I said all season long with our team, ain’t no moral victories, so.”
On what he hopes his team will take away from its playoff run:
“I honestly don’t know right now. Like, I don’t know. Everybody in that locker room knows we had enough, but it wasn’t enough. So, we got to figure it out. I think for me I just look at myself and figure out how can I get better, what I could have done more and make sure I come back next season ready to do it again.”
On finding a rhythm in the second quarter:
“I got to my spots a little bit more tonight. But I said if you watched us play all season long, I scored when I had to, some games I didn’t. Probably needed to more even in this game and probably some other games. But I mean, I could be a Monday morning quarterback too, you know, analyze this and analyze that but at the end of the day it just wasn’t enough.”
On how Williams is feeling about the Finals loss:
“Yeah, I don’t know. We ain’t talked yet. We talked in there as a team and whatnot, but I think everybody got to process this and collect their thoughts. So, we’ll figure it out.”