The Chris Paul Conundrum

As you may already know the NBA season ended last week with the Milwaukee Bucks defeating the Phoenix Suns to win the title. The two biggest stories coming out of that result was the ascension of Giannis and the failure of Chris Paul. I\’ve already briefly covered the Giannis angle, but for Chris Paul it\’s time we dive into that side. If you\’ve read some of my earlier pieces you would know that I\’m big on context and this one is no different. I\’ve waited a few days to let everything settle down and to make sure we aren\’t being prisoners of the moment. At the end of the day we want to make sure we look at Chris Paul as fairly as possible.

Now ESPN tweeted a stat about Chris Paul being the only player in NBA history to lose 4 series after being up 2-0. This led many people to immediately say that he\’s a choker and that he can\’t win big games. But that stat gives very little context into what happened during those events.  For example, the first time it happened was in 2008 against the Spurs. Paul was with the Charlotte Hornets at that time and had just won their first playoff series in franchise history. Nobody except for diehard Hornet fans expected that team to win that series and yet they made that series go the full 7 games. That was mainly due to Paul elevating his teammates to heights they hadn\’t previously reached.

That 2008 Hornets team is also the only team to win the southwest division that wasn\’t from Texas. It\’s also the franchise\’s only division title in their history. That can largely be attributed to the play of Chris Paul and it\’s a bit unfair to pin that one on him. Especially considering the fact that the Hornets haven\’t sniffed any meaningful success after he was traded to the Clippers. The Clippers immediately became a playoff team when Paul arrived and that team became known as Lob City.

In 2013 the \”Lob City\” Clippers blew a 2-0 lead to the Memphis Grizzlies. Of the four blown leads this perhaps is the one that is the most damaging. The Clippers were arguably the better, but Memphis\’ bully ball tactics beat up on the more finesse Clippers. After winning the first two, the Clippers would lose the next four and be bounced out of the first round. It\’s an embarrassing blemish on Paul\’s career and one that you can\’t explain away. You can blame the Clippers for being cursed. You could blame his teammates for not stepping up when he needed them most. But largely you can blame Paul for not being able to carry his team past this particular foe.

The third instance of Chris Paul losing after leading 2-0 happened in 2016 against the Portland Trailblazers. This one can\’t be blamed on Paul in the slightest. The reason for this is in game 4 Paul broke his hand and was out for the rest of the series. The Clippers also lost their second best player, Blake Griffin, moments later to a quad injury. Without their two best players, the Clippers obviously were no match for Portland. This loss goes down in the history books as another blown 2-0 lead for Paul. Unfortunately without the context you wouldn\’t know that this wasn\’t something he could control.

Of course the fourth and final one just happened as he wasn\’t able to stop Milwaukee from winning four straight against his Suns. Giannis was superhuman in these finals, but that doesn\’t excuse Paul from his performances. In games 2-4 he turned the ball over an uncharacteristically 15 times or 5 per game. At times he had Cameron Payne run the offense instead of him. This had a knock on effect on their offense which showed late in games. Whether or not he was effected by covid or injuries won\’t matter as he played really well in games 1 and 5.  This was perhaps his best opportunity to finally win a ring and he couldn\’t get it done.

So after going over all the instances do we definitively know that he\’s a choker? Well that\’s still a bit harsh for a player who\’s style of play is dying out. Paul is an old school point guard and as such he relies on his teammates more than others. His teams all get better with him on the court because he elevates them with his playmaking abilities. In a way he\’s a victim of his own greatness. He consistently gets his teams to overachieve, but when they reach their peak it\’s seen as his failure.

Chris Paul has never been the type of player with the mentality of taking over late in games and shooting all the shots. He\’s wired to always look for the pass first and assist a teammate. Unfortunately, this isn\’t usually the recipe for success in today\’s NBA. You see because he\’s always looking to pass the crucial shots of the game usually from his teammates. In the past they haven\’t been good enough to deserve those shots. The exceptions have been James Harden and this year Devin Booker. But for most of his career Paul\’s biggest problem hasn\’t been his shortcomings in the end of games. But rather the fact that his playstyle isn\’t one in which taking over is the option. It\’s great in the regular season, but falls short in the playoffs.

Regardless of that, the Suns, a franchise who hadn\’t made the playoffs in over a decade, made it to the finals. They were fortunate due to key injuries to their opponents (Anthony Davis, Jamal Murray and Kawhi Leonard) and were two games away from a championship. Two wins away from something this franchise has never accomplished yet it has been made to be a failure. It\’s unfortunate that this outcome is being seen that way, but it doesn\’t change what happened. Once again Chris Paul elevated a team beyond their wildest dreams. That is something we should appreciate and acknowledge, the greatness of Paul. Because at the end of the day only one team finishes the season with the fairytale ending.

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