Brilliance and Heartbreak: The Story of Chris Paul’s Career

In the loss, Devin Booker said the young Phoenix Suns had hoped to avoid many of the brutal roadblocks that can quickly defeat a team with championship aspirations.

Like a broken hand. Or a finnicky hamstring. Or meet the heavyweight of a team led by perhaps the greatest shooter of all time.

Booker’s veteran teammate Chris Paul has lived it all, and this season’s NBA Finals loss was the last and most piercing disappointment of his stellar career.

“I’m doing a pretty good job of staying in the moment,” said a prescient Paul after the Suns took what many thought was a 2-0 lead over the Milwaukee Bucks in the final. “Maybe a lot of the guys on our team, this is their first playoff series, they don’t know heartache or heartache. They are just playing. So for me I know how quickly things can change. I know how a possession or a play can change the dynamic of a whole series. “

Giannis Antetokounmpo’s generational performance for Milwaukee dashed Phoenix’s hopes for their debut championship more than any game or possession. Paul, who played his first NBA Finals, put in a superb performance throughout most of the series and the playoffs, woefully failing to guarantee the only omission from his resume.

In Game 6 of the Finals, facing elimination, Paul displayed channeled desperation, his shooting ability in the end almost single-handedly keeping Phoenix within reach.

“For me that just means getting back to work,” Paul said after Tuesday’s 105-98 loss that sealed the championship for the Bucks. “Back to work. Neither more nor less. There are no moral victories or what. We kind of saw what it takes to get there, and I hope we will see what it takes to get there. go beyond that. “

This is a pivotal moment for Paul, 36, in a career that has had so many. He’s had enough adversity to survive his 16-year NBA, with New Orleans, the Los Angeles Clippers and Houston knowing firsthand that an injury out of nowhere can derail a franchise. It was his broken hand and hamstring with the Clippers; hamstrings, again, (and the filming of Golden State’s Stephen Curry) in Houston.

The loss in the final was the fourth time that one of Paul’s teams has allowed an opponent to recover from a 2-0 deficit.

“It’s difficult,” said Paul. “Great group of guys, a hell of a season, but this one is going to hurt for a while.”

Paul has a player option to stay in Phoenix for $ 44.2 million. He can also explore free will, where his game likely earned him another lucrative long-term contact, an unlikely scenario just a few years ago.

Still fresh from the latest loss, Paul declined to disclose any future plans with reporters before making a statement.

“I’m not retiring, if that’s what you’re asking for,” he said. ” It’s finish. So back to work. “

It took a long time for the stars to finally align simultaneously and in slow motion for Paul.

On the way to the championship series, the Suns ousted a Los Angeles Lakers team with a limited Anthony Davis, a Denver Nuggets team without Jamal Murray and the Kawhi Leonard-less Clippers.

Through each series, Paul racked up a resurgent regular season worthy of nomination for the MVP award by establishing offense and completing the booker’s score.

He has passed the main defenders, exploiting the lags, regularly looking for his mid-range bread and butter rider.

“He got us this far,” said Suns third-year center Deandre Ayton. “We know the kind of detail that we really have to insist on to have consistency, to play at this level, and the type of competitor he is, it was contagious. Knowing your opponent, knowing what the team likes, knowing what teams are throwing at you, things like that, CP has added to everyone’s arsenal. “

Paul recovered from a shoulder injury to help eliminate the defending Lakers champion. He scored 37 points in the game that ended Denver’s season. He sent the Clippers home by scoring 31 of his 41 points in the second half of Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals after missing the start of the series due to coronavirus health and safety protocols.

None of those opponents featured a perimeter defender like Milwaukee’s Jrue Holiday, brought to the Bucks for the specific purpose of trying to bottle up players like Paul and Booker.

At times Milwaukee’s pressure on Paul all over the field seemed tiresome, especially in Game 4 when Paul committed five costly turnovers in a key loss. In the series, Paul averaged 21.8 points and 8.2 assists.

Suns coach Monty Williams has argued that a career like Paul’s should be appreciated for what it is, rather than dissected for what it isn’t. Today’s players understand the importance of cementing their legacy with a championship. The hair salon debates begin and end on the subject.

“It’s laughable to talk about guys like Chris who have had these unreal careers and yet they are penalized for not winning a title,” said Williams, adding: “It’s hard enough to reaching the NBA, not to mention being an all-time great, that’s what he is. “

Booker, listening to Williams’ comments, added, “It’s complete nonsense for the real hoopers out there. But our group, we supported Chris until the end, he led us all season and this is our first year together. “

The momentum that fueled the Phoenix Suns’ run to the NBA Finals started in last season’s bubble at Walt Disney World in Florida. The team’s record – 26-39 when the regular season ended in March 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic – barely qualified the Suns for the NBA restart that summer.

An 8-0 effort at Disney World impressed, but Phoenix still failed to advance to the playoffs, for the 10th consecutive season.

The abridged appearance both convinced the organization that he was a veteran star short of legitimate playoff claims and convinced Paul – under contract with the Oklahoma City Thunder – that Phoenix could be. a destination worthy of consideration.

In November, the Suns landed Paul in a successful deal with the Thunder, forgoing a substantial package.

In Phoenix, Paul reunited with Williams, who had coached him a decade earlier in New Orleans. The couple were aiming high for their reunion aspirations, a vision shared by few others. Phoenix has made a few additions to its young, untested core outside of Paul and Jae Crowder.

Phoenix then went from the draft to the lottery to the final in a matter of months.

“He’s a generational player,” said Williams. “I said that 11 years ago when I coached him in New Orleans. And everywhere he went, the team won. They got better. He was close. It was one injury away from getting here before, but with Book, leading a team that has never been there until now says a lot about their talent, their dedication, the will to win. “

It is in Paul’s hands if he returns to Phoenix to rebuild himself after his new grief.

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