After the Suns escaped Game 4 of the Western Conference finals with a win and 3-1 series lead over the Clippers, ESPN’s Rachel Nichols caught up with Chris Paul for a postgame interview on the Staples Center floor. When Nichols mentioned that 3-1 advantage, Paul immediately cut her off.
“Yeah, I don’t want to talk about 3-1,” Paul said. “Got a lot of bad experiences with that.”
Paul was referencing the 2015 NBA playoffs when his Clippers blew a 3-1 lead against the Rockets, but he likely had more than one series on his mind. The 11-time All-Star has suffered deflating defeats and terribly timed injuries with multiple teams, never reaching the NBA Finals through the first 15 years of his career.
So, in Year 16, when Paul saw an opportunity to snag that elusive Finals berth, he wasn’t going to let it slip out of his hands. In Wednesday night’s Game 6 against the Clippers, Paul led the Suns to a 130-103 victory with 41 points (16-of-24 shooting), eight assists, four rebounds and three steals.
The man known as “The Point God” orchestrated the Phoenix offense to perfection in the second half, scoring 31 points and hitting all five of his 3-point attempts. Perhaps his biggest shot came with less than two minutes remaining in the third quarter. The Clippers had cut the Suns’ lead to seven after trailing by 17, so Monty Williams called for a timeout and subbed Paul back into the game. Paul proceeded to hit a 3-pointer on the next possession and score 14 of Phoenix’s next 16 points to build the lead back up to 20 early in the fourth quarter.
“It was a shot that helped me loosen up a certain part of my body,” Williams said.
That run proved to be the knockout blow, as the Suns outscored the Clippers 33-20 in the final frame to secure their most lopsided win of the series. Paul was able to leave the game with two minutes left on the clock knowing that he was on his way to the NBA Finals for the first time. The emotions poured out of him on the bench as he hugged Williams, who coached Paul when he was a member of the then-New Orleans Hornets and knew better than most how much work Paul had put into his craft in order to reach this stage.
The Suns’ run through these NBA playoffs has involved some lucky breaks with injuries to multiple stars around the league. Each of Phoenix’s opponents lost a key player either before or during the postseason: the Lakers and Anthony Davis, the Nuggets and Jamal Murray and the Clippers and Kawhi Leonard. Some critics may use these absences as an excuse to use the A-word (asterisk).
But Paul, of all people, isn’t going to care about luck considering his history. Even during this particular playoff run, Paul has dealt with a shoulder issue that limited him in the first round and a COVID-19 diagnosis that took him out of the first two games of the Western Conference finals.
So when Paul stood alongside Nichols after Game 6, on that same Staples Center floor that had seen plenty of heartbreak, he could finally exhale. Nichols asked Paul what he thought about hearing the phrase “Chris Paul is in the NBA Finals.”
“Man, it sounds damn good,” Paul said. “Damn good.”