Chris Paul dominates clutch time again in Suns’ win over Spurs
PHOENIX — Watching Phoenix Suns point guard Chris Paul play basketball sometimes is like waiting for him to inevitably break the in-case-of-emergency glass to smash the red button we all know has started to flash.
At the age of 36, Paul is still able to dominate stretches of a game. For most of his career, this has come in the last five minutes of the fourth quarter, but he does it for little pockets elsewhere too if you’re paying enough attention. At times, it’s only a few possessions.
When the San Antonio Spurs wouldn’t go away on Monday, making a run in the fourth quarter to eventually tie the game at 88 with 6:09 to go, we knew what was coming.
Paul snatched away any semblance of control in the game that the Spurs had left and spun it on his fingers for good measure while he closed out a 108-104 Suns win.
At that aforementioned point in the game midway through the fourth quarter, Suns forward Jae Crowder made a three-pointer San Antonio quickly matched. And after two missed shots for Phoenix, Paul got going.
He assisted a Cam Johnson 3, hit a midrange jumper and set up Deandre Ayton for a nine-footer. Another knockdown from the midrange for Paul put the Suns in the lead 100-95 with 2:46 remaining.
After four straight misses combined for the two teams, San Antonio’s Dejounte Murray got fouled by Crowder, a call Crowder disagreed with to the point where the officials T’d him up.
San Antonio converted on two of those three free throws to get back within three, and then 15 seconds later, Crowder threw a pass to Paul that was too in range for the 2018 All-Defense team member in Murray.
Murray grabbed the turnover and took it up the court, with only Paul in front of him, quite the size mismatch.
But long-time readers will know that Paul has an unbelievable penchant for stealing the ball back after his team lost it seconds earlier, and my goodness, he did it again.
Paul’s unreal hands jarred the ball loose into the air, and even better, the ball bounced off Murray out of bounds on the way back down.
— Bally Sports Arizona (@BALLYSPORTSAZ) December 7, 2021
The Takeback ignited a sequence that led to another Johnson 3, a sizable shift in momentum that only someone with Paul’s ability to go get it back could have lighted the match for.
“Probably a combination of anger and competitive drive and wanting to make amends that happened on the offensive end,” Williams said when asked if Paul is angry when he makes those plays. “I’ve seen it so many times with Chris where he turns it over and he goes right back and steals it back.”
When asked about the play, Paul said “just watching a lot of basketball, that’s it.” Crowder, sitting next to him, then told Paul he needed to tell the media what he told the team, that he knows where guys like to put the ball when they go up for a layup or eurostep move.
The five-point swing had Phoenix up six with 1:11 left and a wild pass by Johnson to feed Ayton was followed by Paul’s dagger, an and-one middy that bumped the Suns’ advantage back to six points a minute of game time later that wrapped the proceedings up.
Not mentioned over that stretch was the Suns’ inability to patch together a handful of stops, something that goes overlooked in their crunch-time success. For whatever reason, the defense wasn’t clicking most of the night, save for the middle quarters in which the Spurs combined to score just 37 points.
The fourth quarter accumulated for 10 of Paul’s 21 points and he added 10 assists. He is now a league-high +49 in clutch minutes, defined as a five-point game or less at under five minutes remaining. Paul is shooting 8-of-12 in those 29 minutes with 12 assists and three turnovers.
Phoenix, without Devin Booker (left hamstring strain) for the third straight game, spent most of the first half running the offense through Ayton and there wasn’t much consistent success. It didn’t help that it was one of those nights where Ayton’s hands were iffy, as he had five turnovers. He finished with 14 points, nine rebounds and four assists.
Crowder contributed a season-high 19 points, doing a little scoring off the dribble to go 3-of-4 on 2s with a 4-of-10 mark on deep balls. When the situation calls for it, Crowder will attack closeouts and look for midrange opportunities, which has been more of floaters this season.
Keep an eye on Crowder after he puts one in. He will celebrate by putting invisible floaties on his arms like he’s a small child getting ready to take a dip in the pool.
“Lot of times you’re not able to get to get all the way to the rim, especially against a good defensive team, so I’m trying to think ahead,” Crowder said, noting Booker’s absence and trying to take the load off others when he can.
Johnson and JaVale McGee each provided 13 points off the bench.