Looking spry at 36, Chris Paul proud of availability in 1st Suns season

May 19, 2021, 11:38 AM
Chris Paul #3 of the Phoenix Suns looks on during a game against the Toronto Raptors at Amalie Aren...
Chris Paul #3 of the Phoenix Suns looks on during a game against the Toronto Raptors at Amalie Arena on March 26, 2021 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
(Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

Chris Paul does not look like a newly turned 36-year-old as he readies to make his Phoenix Suns playoff debut Sunday.

Only once this year did he give doubters a brief moment to question why the Suns last offseason would trade for an aging point guard and take on his $40 million-plus annual salary for two seasons.

Paul sat out Feb. 8 against the Cleveland Cavaliers with hamstring soreness but returned the next game. He didn’t miss another outing until the season finale, when he was rested last Sunday against the San Antonio Spurs.

It’s playing in 70 of 72 games with a hopeful long playoff run ahead that might have Paul most proud — moreso than the fact that he’s looking strong as ever to end a condensed season.

“I felt good. I felt really good,” Paul said on Tuesday when asked about his season as a whole. “I think at this point in my career, one of the biggest things I’m probably the most proud of is being available. I think that’s a talent in itself, just being available for your team.

“Given the rigorous schedule that we had, think I did a really good job of taking care of my body and making sure I was ready to play every night. As far as efficiency, that’s what I expect. You put the work in, you expect that to happen.”

Paul finished another All-Star season averaging 16.4 points, 4.5 rebounds and 8.9 assists per game as his usage hardly dipped compared to his prime years.

There’s also this: The point guard had his best month of the year — albeit in an eight-game sample size — to close the regular season.

In May, Paul averaged 18.3 points and 10.1 assists per game with shooting splits of 54% overall, 50% from three and 95% from the free-throw line.

The No. 2 seeded Suns obviously hope Paul’s health holds up into the playoffs.

He has an injury history that Phoenix hopes is just that — history.

In 2015, Paul played a full 82-game season for the Los Angeles Clippers — the only time he’s done so in his 16-year career — but a hamstring injury suffered in the first round kept him out of Games 1 and 2 of the conference semifinals. Los Angeles split those games but blew a 3-1 lead to lose to the Houston Rockets.

A year later, Paul broke his hand in Game 4 of a first-round matchup against the Portland Trail Blazers. With the series tied 2-2 after that, the Clippers fell in Games 5 and 6 with Paul sidelined.

The injury bug bit Paul as a member of the Rockets in 2018, during his deepest postseason run of his career. Houston led the Golden State Warriors 3-2 in the Western Conference Finals when another hamstring issue cropped up for Paul.

That knocked him out of the final two games of the series that Golden State won. The Warriors went on to sweep the Cleveland Cavaliers to win the title.

Paul has touted his plant-based diet for rejuvenating him over the past two years with the Oklahoma City Thunder and Suns. He might be on to something.

Over his career, Paul has missed 10 or fewer games due to injury or rest in just eight of his 16 total seasons.

The past two seasons are included in that, as the point guard also played 70 of 72 games with Oklahoma City last year.

So far with Phoenix, Paul has managed to stay healthy and available on top of his many off-the-court commitments — from his charitable contributors, acting as president of the players union and filming his State Farm Insurance commercials.

Suns head coach Monty Williams believes Paul’s liveliness has been improved thanks to his close-knit family. After all, that was one reason he pushed for being traded to the Suns from the Thunder.

“The thing that I was always concerned about was him being away from his family and how that would have an effect on him,” Williams said Tuesday. “He’s managed it well. I get so excited when I know they’re in town because I know how much (his wife) Jada and his children mean to him, and then I hear his mom and dad are in town, and (brother) C.J. comes to town. That to me helps him get through the season the way that he has because he is family-based, family-oriented. But the sacrifices that Chris makes to his diet, to work ethic, watching film, those things have a huge impact on what he’s able to do.

“He’s a freak, when you think about it,” Williams added. “Not just genetically, but the will to do the things necessary to be successful. He’s one of those guys who will go the extra, extra, extra mile to go where he wants to.”

That would be to Paul’s first NBA Finals appearance and first title.

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