PHOENIX — Chris Paul is on a hunt for his first-ever championship. Tuesday night, he overcame an obstacle that has haunted his career dating back to his first-ever playoff series.
Paul finally got a postseason win with notorious referee Scott Foster in the game. Paul’s teams had lost 13 straight games he played in that Foster officiated.
After the game, Paul shrugged off a win with Foster as crew chief.
“I ain’t even notice,” Paul said as reporters laughed.
Our @DaveKingNBA asked Paul about Foster and getting a win.— Trevor Booth (@TrevorMBooth) April 19, 2023
Paul: “I didn’t even notice.” https://t.co/Iz5JHTBC3Y pic.twitter.com/ROT9M9Ez1V
He shifted his answer to a different focus.
“I think we all about, in this run, never mind the distractions,” Paul said. “That is what it is.”
An 18-year veteran, Paul has seen close to every scenario imaginable in the NBA. He has played at a high level, earning 12 All-Star appearances, four All-NBA first-team selections and leading the league in assists per game five times and steals on six occasions.
Paul’s addition has made teams competitors right away. He was the reason the Suns improved so much from barely missing the 8-team playoff bracket in 2020 to reaching the Finals the next season.
But Paul has not yet reached the mountaintop of an NBA career with a title. He craves it, he told Mark Medina with Sportsnaut, more than anyone.
Paul’s performance in the Suns’ 123-109 Game 2 win of their first-round series against the Los Angeles Clippers showed he still has enough stamina to help a team climb that mountain. Phoenix evened the series at one game apiece.
Paul, who is regarded as one of the NBA’s best point guards of all time, is not the player he used to be. He had the lowest usage rate of his career this season, according to Statmuse. He is now the third or fourth offensive option on a championship contender, which has never happened to this point.
Paul’s role has lessened to a catch-and-shoot player off shot creation from guard Devin Booker and forward Kevin Durant, arguably the best scoring duo in the NBA, and a facilitator. It is different than his usual role in his career and it has not been an easy transition.
Paul did not have a standout performance in Game 1 of this series Sunday and struggled early in Game 2, missing three of his first four shots. But Paul has never one to get rattled, and he said there was no other option but to keep moving forward.
“Got to,” he said.
Paul had just four points in the first half and four points in the third quarter, as Booker went off for 18 third-quarter points en route to a team-leading 38-point performance. But Paul’s teammates don’t want him to sit back and watch them produce.
Durant and Booker have pleaded with Paul to take more shots, which led to him making a career-high in 3-pointers during a regular-season game (seven) during the Suns’ 119-115 win over the Denver Nuggets April 6.
Paul has closed plenty of Suns games for the team in the last two seasons, and he did it again Tuesday. Paul had eight points in the fourth quarter on 4-of-7 shooting, including two jumpers inside the 3-minute mark that helped extend a 6-point lead at the time to 12.
CP3 with the dance and the deuce pic.twitter.com/h7P1OQwYHP— NBA on TNT (@NBAonTNT) April 19, 2023
Paul’s performance was needed by the Suns, and it is likely he did it while playing through pain, which has been common in his career. Paul reportedly had an X-ray on his right hand after the game. Good news for him and Suns fans: The results came back clean.
There is a lot of pressure on the Suns and Paul to meet the championship expectations they have. They have the third-best odds to win the title, according to DraftKings Sportsbook, and the best odds by the service to win the Western Conference.
It is very unlikely Paul will make too much of that. He was cool in the clutch and even cooler in his postgame press conference. Everything he said was a reflection of his calm demeanor.
“We’re trying to control what we can control, just trying to stay present and focused,” he said.
Paul was seen pleading with Foster for an unknown reason during the game. Still, it was a minor moment in a game where he and his team squashed controversy with their strong offensive play.
“Please. Please.”— Hoop Central (@TheHoopCentral) April 19, 2023
Chris Paul to Scott Foster.
(via @ClutchPointsApp, @TomerAzarly)
Paul and the Suns face an incredibly difficult challenge with the Clippers. Even though Phoenix got hot in the second half, Los Angeles managed to stay within single digits up until the final three minutes.
For now, Paul will try to take another step toward his goal with a road win or two in the Suns’ next two games. He hopes it will lead to what he has always wanted to accomplish: his first-ever championship.