Chris Paul makes his MVP case as Suns top Clippers to make playoffs
PHOENIX — Chris Paul took advantage of the Phoenix Suns’ last regular-season game scheduled for primetime national television, showing everyone what his merits are for being in the mix for the league’s Most Valuable Player.
Paul scored 25 of his 28 points in the second half of a 109-101 win over the Los Angeles Clippers, securing the Suns’ first playoff berth in 11 years.
In a game the Suns led for the entirety of, Paul had two key sections where he sensed his need to step in and single-handedly change the current trajectory of its outcome.
Think about that sentence again and the amount of talent it must take to do that.
At the 8:28 mark of the third quarter, the Clippers got within six after Phoenix was relatively comfortable in keeping them far enough from smelling a potential lead. Suns head coach Monty Williams called timeout, and after the break, that’s when Paul got loose.
He assisted a Torrey Craig 3, hit three straight jumpers for seven points and then set up Deandre Ayton for two free throws. In two-and-a-half minutes, the Suns were back up 11 as Paul exited the game.
But with 9:14 left, Los Angeles got that whiff, putting the score within a possession for the first time since the mid-first quarter. A few minutes later, it was down to a one-point Suns edge with six minutes remaining.
Enter stage left, Point God.
It was a 6-0 run all off buckets by Paul in under 90 seconds. He made another pull-up jumper a minute later, and after he assisted a Devin Booker jumper, Phoenix led by nine with 2:22 left, back in complete control of the game.
How does one not marvel at someone having such absolute command of a game?
“I just think he gets stronger as the game progresses,” Williams said. “He came over to me and said that tonight: ‘I just felt strong down the stretch.’ His mentality doesn’t change, as far as there’s no nerves, there’s no panic in him — he’s been there so many times. Speaks to the talent that he has, but it also speaks to the work and the experiences that he’s been in over the course of his long career.”
Booker growing up would watch Paul with his dad, and both of them would point out that next level Paul would unlock in the second half.
“We’d be like, ‘Man, you notice how he switches it up between the first half and second half?'” Booker said. “And now playing with him, you notice the gear flip … he’s laser-sharp locked in.”
Paul, as he normally does, credited his teammates for allowing him to be a guy that can pick his spots throughout a game. He added 10 assists and shot 10-of-15 from the floor.
Booker contributed 21 points, and Phoenix got two ginormous efforts off the bench from Cam Payne and Frank Kaminsky.
Payne had 15 points, four rebounds and four assists in 22 minutes while Kaminsky notched 13 points in 15 minutes.
In a testament to his importance on a win, Deandre Ayton was a game-high plus-16 despite a 2-of-8 shooting night. That’s because he grabbed six of his 11 rebounds on the offensive glass, including two late when the Clippers went small, and was also great defensively.
The Clippers were without Kawhi Leonard, Serge Ibaka and Patrick Beverley, but Paul George was up for playing against the Suns yet again, putting up 25 points, 10 rebounds, four assists and three steals in another strong effort versus Phoenix.
In the smaller scheme of things, looking at what Paul can accomplish in a professional basketball game is stunning.
But taking a second to zoom out, hearing a crowd of 5,917 louder than it has been all year, as united as it has felt in even longer. The fanbase celebrating a deserved return to the playoffs under the advisory of Booker. A franchise getting some of its glory back after a tumultuous decade. Booker soon acquiring the likely multiple rounds of playoff experience he needs to try and bring that elusive championship. A stabilized rebuild that is now thriving.
It was a group effort with a lot of people responsible, but it has to start with Paul for this year specifically.
If that’s not the most valuable, what is?