Eviscerated by Luka Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks in Game 7 on Sunday, the Phoenix Suns were as much as 46 points behind in a 123-90 win, which somehow wasn’t even as close as a 33-point lead might suggest. Chris Paul didn’t make his first basket until the Suns were down 40 at the 7:26 mark of the third quarter. At halftime he had a point. Finished the game on a completely useless 10 and down 39, the worst single-game point difference of his career.
I don’t want to do this about Paul’s legacy. The Suns didn’t lose because of Paul, although he certainly did nothing to help them win. He was one of the top five point guards to ever play before this game tipped, and no, one game didn’t change that. Paul’s late career rise was a masterful chapter in a Hall of Famer’s career, and many of the playoff collapses he has been linked with were, at least to some extent, the result of some of the most gruesome injuries imaginable can.
Still, the results are difficult to turn away from, or rather, easy to grasp. After the Suns won the first two games of that series against Dallas, this is now the fifth time in Paul’s career that his team has squandered a 2-0 postseason lead. Unfortunately, that’s an NBA record.
It gets worse. In five of those lost 2-0 leads, Paul’s team didn’t even make it into Game 7, meaning they lost four in a row, as they did in last year’s finals to the Bucks. The only other player to lose even three 2-0 leads is Blake Griffin, who we know was Paul’s teammate at the Los Angeles Clippers, who, with Paul at the helm, became the first team in history to do so a series lost in five consecutive postseasons, which they eventually led.
Paul,is 3-5 in eliminations in his career.
He’s lost his last four Game 7s.
Also, the list of breakdowns you see above doesn’t even include the 3-1 lead Paul’s Clippers lost to the Rockets in 2015, or the 3-2 lead his Rockets lost to the Warriors in 2018. He won’t play in the last two games of this Golden State series after tearing his hamstring in Game 5. It really shouldn’t be counting on its ledger. But it does. These conversations are out of context.
But again, facts are facts. If we bow to the altar of Luka Doncic for his ascension gene, then the opposite must also be at least somewhat true. Paul has delivered many big plays and moments throughout his career, but there’s no denying that quite often he’s completely disappeared when it mattered most. Some people just have it in the biggest moments. Doncic has it. My god, does he have it.
Barring exceptions, maybe Paul just doesn’t have the big game it Factor. It pains me to say this. But James Harden just got put through a lumberjack for his latest elimination game dud, and while I don’t think Paul deserves the same kind of heckling, if only because of Paul’s efforts or commitment to win or even stay, never be able to question in shape i suppose fair is fair.
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After Phoenix went 2-0 up against Dallas, Paul averaged 9.4 points, 5.8 assists and 3.6 turnovers in the last five games of the series. The Suns, of course, lost four of those games, and not once did Paul attempt more than nine shots. Passivity? The defense he faced? It almost always comes out as a bit of both, but Harden didn’t get that benefit of the doubt, and for the folks eager to fill that position, neither will Paul.
I’m not normally one to shy away from expressing my opinion. But I just don’t know which direction to go in. I think Paul is not only a great all time player but also a pretty damn clutch player. The latter obviously doesn’t sit well with these playoff meltdowns, but I’m just saying it’s a team sport, and besides, attributing Paul’s losses solely to his own choke jobs would discredit the teams and players who beat him. The guy has faced Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Giannis Antetokounmpo and now Luka Doncic the last three times he had a real shot at a title.
Paul is great, but he’s not as great as any of these guys. Hardly anyone who has ever played the game is as awesome as these guys. So let’s credit them first. Then, after that, if you want to smear Paul as a playoff choker, do it. I won’t do that, but I cannot deny that the facts are there to support such a stance.