EMPIRE OF THE SUNS

A history: Chris Paul, Jose Alvarado and the budding Suns-Pelicans rivalry

Dec 16, 2022, 3:35 PM | Updated: 4:47 pm
Chris Paul #3 of the Phoenix Suns drives against Jose Alvarado #15 of the New Orleans Pelicans duri...
Chris Paul #3 of the Phoenix Suns drives against Jose Alvarado #15 of the New Orleans Pelicans during Game Four of the Western Conference First Round NBA Playoffs at the Smoothie King Center on April 24, 2022 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images)

This stretch of five games for the Phoenix Suns includes three clashes with the New Orleans Pelicans over nine days.

The opponents’ four-game regular season set ends Saturday at Footprint Center with Phoenix aiming to pull even.

It’s been nothing less than must-watch basketball so far. The Suns and Pelicans forged the foundation of what might be one of the most testy rivalries in the NBA during the first round of last season’s playoffs, and there has been massive carryover for two squads that have kept many of the same characters around.

It matters, too, that Pelicans head coach Willie Green was a Suns assistant before last season and has developed New Orleans a similar tough-minded, team-oriented identity.

It also has helped that New Orleans matches up quite well with Phoenix, and that both teams have looked capable of winning the Western Conference at different points in the first half of the 2022-23 season.

But at the core of this budding rivalry is Suns starting point guard Chris Paul — an 18-year pro and future Hall of Famer — and backup Pelicans guard Jose Alvarado, a second-year undrafted pest. Here’s a look at their already long history of words, elbows, eight-second violations and more.

The Chris Paul-Jose Alvarado rivalry

April 19, 2022 — Game 2 of first-round playoff series

After the Suns take Game 1 behind Paul scoring 19 points in the fourth quarter, the Pelicans respond in a big way.

Alvarado goes from a non-factor to in-the-picture, hitting all three of his shots, including two threes, while adding three assists. For the first time in the series, he tries his patented move, the Grand Theft Alvarado (GTA).

Paul isn’t fooled — this time — and waves the young point guard by.

This was only the beginning of this brewing rivalry, and an injury to Devin Booker in this series opener loomed large.

April 24, 2022 – Game 4

The Suns take a 2-1 series lead with a Game 3 win thanks to some fine adjustments and without Booker, but Game 4 is Alvarado’s moment.

He snagged the ball from Paul on one transition play and forced an eight-second violation on the Point God with hounding fullcourt defense.

Then came the postgame quotes.

“Couldn’t wave me off for that one,” Alvarado said, a reference to Paul’s Game 2 teasing.

April 26, 2022 – Game 5

Alvarado’s gusto grew from here.

He forced two eight-second violations, one leading to a Paul technical.

In the second quarter, Paul pulled up for a midrange jumper and kicked his leg out awkwardly, hitting Alvarado in the groin. He would later be assessed a flagrant foul.

April 28, 2022 – Game 6

And this is where it gets past gamesmanship.

Late in the series-clinching game that included Paul going a perfect 14-of-14 from the field, setting stats records, the Suns point guard flings a left elbow into Alvarado’s face, drawing a foul. This, despite the hit requiring some dental work on the Pelicans’ backup.

It was not the only physical hit on Alvarado by Paul in the game.

Following the game, Paul gives the pesky defender credit — but not before mispronouncing his name. Take Booker’s facial expression at that moment how you like.

“He’s a Hall of Famer,” Alvarado said after the loss, per the Washington Post’s Ben Golliver. “I respect that. But you can’t do (expletive) like that. … I chipped my tooth. What can you do right now? I’ll go home, wake up, go to the dentist and get new teeth so I can smile for the summer.

“He’s good. Like I said, I would never run from no smoke. He was a tough person to guard and I thought I challenged him the best that I can. At the end of the day, like I said, he’s going to be (in) the Hall of Fame, but he knows my name now, too.”

Well, maybe, Jose.

Also notable from this closeout game: Booker before the game acquired a few Pelican fans’ shirts that read, “(Expletive) Jae Crowder,” a rallying cry for New Orleans crowds that series.

Booker wore the shirt in his postgame press conference.

Dec. 9, 2022

Now to the 2022-23 regular season, where the Suns struggled for the first time playing against a Pelicans team with a healthy Zion Williamson.

Down several possessions, Williams’ 360 windmill dunk with three seconds left appears to start a scuffle between the teams at the buzzer.

Mikal Bridges, who dunked late in a game during the playoff series last year, said on J.J. Redick’s The Old Man & the Three podcast that Williamson’s dunk didn’t bother the team.

Alternate angles at the end of the game on Dec. 9 showed it was Paul throwing a late elbow Alvarado’s way that led to tensions between the two squads.

Alvarado after a win over the Suns suggests that Paul’s presence had something to do with him playing through a rib injury that had kept him out prior.

Perhaps riffing on Paul’s mispronunciation of his name a year prior, Alvarado refers to the Suns guard as “that person.”

You can guess there will be more to add to this list, perhaps Saturday and, who knows, maybe this postseason.

Paul’s Suns host Alvarado’s Pelicans on Saturday at 7 p.m. at Footprint Center. Tune to 98.7, the Arizona Sports app and ArizonaSports.com.

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