Chris Paul celebrates a birthday on Friday. CP3 becomes CP37.
Hoist a glass. Cross your fingers. It’s beginning to feel like the 2022 postseason will be a much-deserved, long-overdue coronation of one of the game’s greatest point guards. A tribute to one of the NBA’s most cut-throat competitors.
Paul is currently the MVP of the postseason. He’s been spectacular in four of the Suns’ six victories, closing out games with ruthless pedigree, drawing comparisons to Yankees superstar Mariano Rivera.
He completed a circle-of-life triumph with a first-round victory in New Orleans, where he spent the first six years of his career, where he finished off the Pelicans with a historic 14-for-14 shooting performance in the clinching game .
And on Wednesday at Footprint Center, he reminded the basketball community of a very important point: Luka Doncic might be a media darling and perennial MVP candidate, but he’s not the best point guard in this series.
To prove his point, Paul directed a savage frontal attack on Doncic in the later stages of Game 2, exposing the Mavericks superstar as a defensive liability at the highest level of basketball.
Imagine the collateral damage inside the Mavericks locker room, where their resident superstar was just targeted as the pigeon. The weak link. The object of predation.
Have fun with that, Dallas.
Paul has been described as an acquired taste. He is a transcendent talent who will flop, play dirty and exploit every loophole in order to win. It wasn’t a coincidence when the Pelicans’ Herb Jones famously refused Paul’s efforts to help him off the floor following a hard foul in the previous series.
Everyone in the NBA knows how far Paul will go to beat you on a basketball court. He would rather step on your throat than lend a helping hand.
For whatever reason, Paul never received proper respect in last year’s MVP race. His dogged mentality has unlocked everything in Phoenix, resuscitating Deandre Ayton, elevating Devin Booker, empowering Jae Crowder and Mikal Bridges.
The same disrespect is evident in the current postseason, when Kendrick Perkins claimed that Brandon Ingram was a better player in a first-round series; and another heat-seeking analyst chided Paul for taking advantage of an exhausted Doncic at the end of Game 2.
The implication is odious. The implication is that, unlike Doncic, Paul has enough talent around him to do as little as possible until he is absolutely needed, thereby cherry-picking his way to the finish line. It’s an absurd marginalization of what Paul brings to the court.
It’s also based on an uncomfortable truth.
Paul is only missing a ring at age 37 because his body keeps breaking down at the worst time, in the postseason, when basketball come at you hard and fast. And maybe this brand of fourth-quarter, pick-your-spots stardom is exactly what is needed to get Paul to the finish line. Even if it means occasional sideline flareups with head coach Monty Williams over playing time.
But this postseason is starting to feel different. It feels like the basketball gods are lining up in the name of justice. Like Kevin Garnett finally getting a championship in Boston.
Look around the NBA, where a seismic generational shift is underfoot. The greats and gatekeepers of yesteryear are beginning to fade. They are LeBron James, Russell Westbrook, James Harden and Carmelo Anthony. Maybe even Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard and Anthony Davis.
A younger generation is taking over: Giannis, Booker, Doncic, Ja Morant, Jayson Tatum, Trae Young and many others. Like playoff basketball, life comes at you fast.
But in the postseason of 2022, the present and the moment belong to CP3. The point guard who is now CP three years from 40. The one who might eventually displace Randy Johnson as the greatest acquisition in the history of Arizona sports.
The one currently teaching a master class in basketball. For the merciless.
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