Phoenix Suns point guard Chris Paul was practically living in a dream world at the start of the 2021 NBA Finals. Now, that dream is slowly dissolving into a nightmare.
Paul was magnificent through the first two games of the series. He poured in 32 points and dished out nine assists in Game 1 before scoring 23 points and helping the Suns to a 2-0 series lead over the Milwaukee Bucks with a win in Game 2.
However, Paul has not quite looked the same in the last two games, both Suns losses. In what has been a bit of a recurring theme throughout his playoff career, injuries might again be looming large.
Chris Paul has a long list of playoff injuries
The “Point God” is one of the most accomplished players in NBA history. Chris Paul has made 11 All-Star teams over the course of his career to go along with 10 All-NBA selections and nine All-Defensive selections. However, his playoff resume is littered with a litany of physical setbacks.
Paul, then a member of the Los Angeles Clippers, was limited by a hamstring injury in a Western Conference semifinals loss to the Houston Rockets in 2015. He then suffered a hand fracture during Game 4 of a first-round series against the Portland Trail Blazers in 2016, with the Blazers eventually dismissing the Clippers in six games.
The most crushing blow came in 2018. Paul and the Houston Rockets were within one game of dethroning the Golden State Warriors as Western Conference champions after taking a 3-2 lead in the conference finals. But Paul suffered a hamstring injury that would render him inactive for Game 6 and Game 7. The Rockets would go on to lose both contests.
The injury bug bit Paul again in Game 1 of Phoenix’s first-round matchup with the LA Lakers, though he would recover from the injury and embark on a heroic playoff run to lead the Suns to the Finals. Yet, there appear to be some concerns as to whether Paul is really healthy.
CP3’s hand injuries might be more severe than previously thought
Paul had been remarkably efficient with the ball for the majority of the 2021 playoffs. He has been anything but in the NBA Finals.
The 36-year-old committed just two turnovers in Game 1. Since then, however, Paul is averaging five turnovers per game. He has been uncharacteristically clumsy with the ball, occasionally losing the handle or getting airborne without knowing where the next pass will go.
Perhaps Paul’s hand injuries are bothering him. Former New York Times NBA columnist and current Substack writer Marc Stein reported Paul’s performance “has numerous observers wondering if the damaged ligaments in his right hand or his taped-up left wrist are more significant injuries than he has let on.”
Paul has never been one to indicate he isn’t right physically. He has been a grinder throughout his career. It’s unlikely he would want to give the Bucks a mental edge by acknowledging his hand is bothering him.
Still, it’s worth wondering whether that is indeed the case.
The Suns need peak Paul to beat the Bucks
Phoenix desperately needs Paul to return to form if it hopes to win the series and capture the franchise’s first NBA championship.
The Bucks are starting to get contributions from just about everyone. Khris Middleton has been a shot-creator late in games, while Jrue Holiday has mostly broken free from his early shooting slump. Pat Connaughton has been a vital shooting presence. Giannis Antetokounmpo is asserting his presence on both ends.
Milwaukee can be a tough matchup for the Suns when everyone is clicking because they have more size and are more physical than Phoenix. The Bucks are also taking better care of the ball, committing just five turnovers in Game 4 against 17 Suns giveaways.
Devin Booker’s 42 points were not enough for Phoenix in Game 4. It’s unlikely his continued heroics will amount to wins if Paul cannot be the ultimate orchestrator of the offense and reestablish command of the game in pick-and-roll.
The NBA Finals have now become a best-of-three series. Time will tell whether Paul can gut it out and get his team two more wins.
Stats courtesy of Basketball Reference.