Since joining the Phoenix Suns just over a year and a half ago, Chris Paul has done some things in a Suns uni that no other point guard — in a long history of Hall of Fame point guards in franchise history — has done.
On Thursday night, Paul added another to the list.
In his fourth closeout opportunity over two playoff seasons, the guard nicknamed CP3 ran his perfect record to 4-0 while posting a perfect shooting game.
He made all 14 of his shot attempts against the New Orleans Pelicans, becoming the first player in the NBA’s 75-year history to take that many shot attempts without a miss in a playoff game. Read that again: no player in playoff history has made more shots without missing any.
You’d think a center would have done it at least once. Heck teammate Deandre Ayton himself, the man who last year set an NBA record for field goal percentage in a single playoff run among players with at least 150 shot attempts, made 10 of 12 shots for an incredibly efficient game. But it wasn’t 14, and there were two misses.
“He did some special stuff tonight,” Jae Crowder said of his point guard after the game.
Paul’s incredible efficiency was helped by the return of running mate Devin Booker, who played 32 minutes and scored 13 points. Definitely a low scoring night for team’s best scorer, but a welcome sight nonetheless.
“Real nice. Real nice to have him back,” Paul said of Book. “All the pressure they’ve been doing all series, especially the last three games. It’s a little bit different when you’ve got him out there on the court.”
Paul said he had no idea he was setting records for shots without a miss, but he did say in the second quarter he realized he was hot and decided it was time to get aggressive. He had 10 points on 5-5 shooting at the time, but the Suns were down 10 at halftime to the cruising Pelicans.
“Yeah, we needed it,” Paul said. “A team like that they pushed us, as hard as we’ve been pushed.”
Paul had 23 of his 33 points in the second half on 10-10 shooting in a game the Suns only won by six points, 115-109.
Despite the hot hand, in the game’s most key moments, the point god used his passing to get the Suns the open shots they needed.
The Suns were still 102-101 with 2:35 to go when Paul faked another mid-range jump shot that would have had to be a circus shot with tight defense on him, and instead tossed a lob to Deandre Ayton to put the Suns up 103-102.
A minute later, the Suns down this time 104-103, he found a wide open Devin Booker on the left wing for a three pointer to put the Suns up for good.
“I don’t know if they forgot, or didn’t realize who it was,” Paul said of Booker being so open. “I looked over and saw how they were shifted and that was probably the biggest shot of the game.”
“Caught me off guard too,” Booker, who was sitting next to Paul in postgame, said. “You don’t really get clean looks like that.”
At that point, the Suns were up 106-104 and they never trailed again.
By postgame, Paul and Booker were all smiles as the Suns had finally vanquished the Pelicans and were moving on to the second round.
While Paul’s assists gave the Suns their winning margin, it was his scoring that got them there in the first place. The Pelicans were putting it on the Suns all first half and started the second-half shooting 7/11 from the field. But Paul and the Suns started 11/12 themselves, and quickly closed a 10-point halftime deficit to a single digit.
Paul’s daggers got them there and kept them in the game until they finally took control. Every single shot Paul took was in his sweet spot of the short mid-range or at the three-point line. 13 middys. 1 three. No misses.
Booker joked postgame that he couldn’t believe Paul didn’t take a heat check, the term used for a player who tests just how hot he is by taking wilder and wilder shots until a miss. Paul shook that off, saying as soon as you miss you’re cold again.
“I believe in the heat check!” Booker joked defiantly. “I’m never gonna have one of these [perfect] games.”
“He’ll be pulling up from the other free throw line,” Paul joked.
“Yeah,” Book replied with a nod. “Seriously.”
Paul commented on how much history he has in that New Orleans arena, where he played the first six years of his career.
“It’s unbelievably special,” Paul said. “You have no clue what it’s like to even walk in to the game. Everybody that works back here, these people are part of my family. Chris, that’s by the locker room, with the yellow coat on, Chris was here when I was here. I’d [elbow] pound him every game before I came here, and I did the same thing this entire series.”
Paul made similar comments last year, after the Suns beat the Clippers at Staples, where he spent the second six years of his career.
Let’s hope someday he’s talking about Suns fans and arena workers in the same way. It takes time to build that kinship, but I can see it happening.
I want to share another Paul/Book exchange that illuminates so many of their traits: humor weaved through an incessant need for perfection and ultra competitiveness.
Book, answering a question on Paul’s greatness with Paul sitting right there next to him: “...knowing he’s gonna take care of the ball—”
Paul, eyes down to the shared stat sheet: “Three turnovers.”
Book: “Did you?”
Book: “Well, you owe me a hundred then.”
Book and Paul have a healthy respect for each other as players and human beings. They are tied at the hip, even though Book is a dozen years younger (25 vs. 37) and in a completely different stages of their careers. He’s also a fan, and takes in Paul’s exploits with the same awe as the rest of us.
“Nobody’s seen this,” Booker said of Paul’s perfect night. “It’s a first for all of us.”
Booker’s not only talking about the perfect game, but also about Paul’s career as a Sun so far. Since Paul joined the team the Suns have more wins than any other team in the NBA. They have won four playoff series, and counting, with Chris Paul dominating the last three closeout games.
- Game 6, Conference Quarter-Finals, 2022 Playoffs vs. Pelicans: 33 points (100% shooting), 8 assists, 5 rebounds, 1 steal
- Game 6, Conference Finals, 2021 Playoffs vs. Clippers: 41 points (67% shooting), 8 assists, 4 rebounds, 3 steals
- Game 4, Conference Semi-Finals, 2021 Playoffs vs. Nuggets: 37 points (74% shooting), 7 assists, 3 rebounds, 2 steals
- Game 6, Conference Quarter-Finals, 2021 Playoffs vs. Lakers: 8 points (33% shooting), 12 assists, 2 rebounds **Paul was dealing with shoulder stinger that did not abate until next round**
Enjoy it while he’s here, Suns fans!