Chris Paul has been here before. And as he learned the hard way, three wins in a series is not four. CP3 is hoping to close the deal, at least the first part of it, this time around. The 11-time All-Star leads the Phoenix Suns into Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals with a chance to do what the Houston Rockets could not in 2018: reach the NBA Finals.
Seeded second in the West, the Suns are the highest remaining seed in the NBA Playoffs. They would have homecourt advantage in the NBA Finals against either the Milwaukee Bucks or the Atlanta Hawks, the last two teams standing in the East. For Paul, a 36-year-old in his 16th NBA season, he is as close to the elusive ring as he ever has been.
After so many disappointments, Paul isn’t taking anything for granted.
An ill-timed injury spelled disaster for Chris Paul in 2018
The Houston Rockets were a buzz saw in 2017–18.
Even with newly acquired point guard Chris Paul limited to 58 games due to various injuries, the Rockets stormed to a franchise-record 65 wins and the best record in the NBA. Paul’s arrival freed James Harden to handle the ball less and score more en route to the MVP award.
Houston blasted through the first two rounds of the playoffs, taking down the Minnesota Timberwolves and Utah Jazz in five games each. The defending champion Golden State Warriors stunned the Rockets in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals with a 13-point win. The teams traded blowouts in Game 2 and Game 3, and Houston reclaimed homecourt advantage with a tough Game 4 win in Oakland.
Another hard-fought win in Game 5 put the Rockets on the edge of taking down the Warriors. But Paul hurt his hamstring near the end of the game and sat out the rest of the series. Two Golden State victories later, Paul remained ringless.
Paul has dealt with setbacks this time around, too
Chris Paul missed only two games this season for the Phoenix Suns. Acquired from the Oklahoma City Thunder in a November 2020 trade, Paul had his second consecutive healthy campaign after three seasons during which he missed 21, 24, and 24 games, respectively.
In the playoff opener against the Los Angeles Lakers, Paul sustained a stinger to his right shoulder and was affected the rest of the game. He didn’t miss any games due to the injury, but he was not himself early in the series. Then he missed the first two games of the Western Conference Finals against the Los Angeles Clippers while having to clear the NBA’s COVID-19 protocols.
Paul told ESPN he wouldn’t think about what lies ahead. Not yet anyway. The Suns captured a grind-it-out 84–80 win over the Clippers in Game 4 to take a 3–1 series lead.
“Not until the job is done, Not until the job is done. We can talk about all that then, but right now, it’s just laser focus. Three wins don’t win the series, so right now, we did what we came here to do. We wanted to get one of these, and now we got to stay focused and be ready to go back to our crowd.”Chris Paul
Paul has more career behind him than he has left. So it’s conceivable this is his last, best chance to get a ring.
The irony of Chris Paul playing the Clippers at this stage
If the Phoenix Suns reach the NBA Finals, Chris Paul would understand the irony of the path. After the lockout in 2011 ended, the then-New Orleans Hornets traded Paul to the Clippers in a blockbuster deal that turned LA’s other team from a punchline to a perennial playoff club. But playoff success always eluded Lob City. Often, injuries to Paul, Blake Griffin, or both greased the skids on the Clippers’ way out of the postseason.
In 2007–08, the Hornets’ triumphant return to New Orleans following two seasons’ worth of dislocation after Hurricane Katrina ended prematurely. Unfortunately, the talented but inexperienced Hornets dropped a Game 7 at home to the San Antonio Spurs in the second round.
In 2015, the Clippers led the Rockets 3–1 before the roof caved in. Then, Houston posted three straight double-digit victories, and LA was left to contemplate another disappointment. Against Utah in 2017, Paul and the Clippers lost three of four at home in a seven-game first-round loss.
The young supporting cast in Phoenix set the stage for their breakout with an undefeated performance during the restart in the bubble last summer. Then, Chris Paul’s arrival prompted a leap to the next level. But he’s not taking anything for granted at this point.
Statistics courtesy of Basketball Reference.