Chris Paul scored 41 points and dished 10 assists to put the finishing touches on his first-ever second-round NBA playoff win on Tuesday night. He was marvelous in the Rockets’ 112-102 win over the Utah Jazz in Game 5, and now, for the first time in his 13-year career, he’s going to the conference finals. The victory finally shattered a long-lasting, misdirected criticism of one of the most well-rounded court generals in league history.
If there was any doubt about how special this game was for Paul, look no further than the vicious display he put on in the fourth quarter. Shots like this were going down:
Paul has been to the postseason 10 times in 13 tries on three different teams, never advancing past the second round until now. He’s come close — really close — losing two Game 7s in the second round. The most infamous collapse came in the 2015 playoffs after Paul, Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan, J.J. Redick and company blew a 3-1 lead to Houston, which Paul addressed bluntly after winning Game 4 of the Western Conference Semifinals.
“I’ve been here before,” Paul said. “Shit went bad real quick.”
"I've been here before, 3-1, s--- went bad real quick."— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) May 7, 2018
–Chris Paul pic.twitter.com/3CMxgpZFbM
But now he’s finished the job.
Mocking Paul’s inability to reach a conference finals was illogical from the start
Critics, media and fans alike love to unfairly clump championship rings and other forms of team playoff success into a stat category for the individual greats. It’s part of why LeBron James went to Miami, Kevin Durant went to Golden State, and Paul to Houston, despite all three performing brilliantly in the postseason each year they’re asked to. Nothing matters without a ring in the eyes of many, and only 15 players win one each year.
In 85 playoff game appearances (not including the Game 5 win), Chris Paul is averaging 21 points per game on 48 percent shooting (37 percent three-point shooting), nine assists, five rebounds and two steals in 37 minutes. That’s incredible!
According to StatMuse, just six other players have averaged those numbers in the postseason, including Michael Jordan, Allen Iverson, Maurice Cheeks, Isiah Thomas, Mookie Blaylock, and Baron Davis. Paul has shot better from the field than five of them (Cheeks), and better from three than all of them.
Taking a deeper dive into the more specific statistics, things still check out.
Among guards that averaged more than 30 minutes in the playoffs, Paul ranks second all-time in assist percentage (44.4), 13th in true shooting percentage (58.1), and 2nd in win shares per 48 minutes (.207).
Ring or not, those numbers are the product of an elite guard.
“If Chris Paul was so good, why did his teams keep losing?”
Chris Paul starred for a number of great, but not championship-great teams. The Clippers were his best chance, stacking a solid core of Paul, Griffin, Jordan and Redick, but the bench was never up to par. Some of that can be blamed on coaching, some on GMs for the way the team was structured, and of course some of the blame is on Paul. But Paul’s numbers rarely wavered in the playoffs during his prime years.
His Clippers teams did have a number of disappointing postseason losses. The 3-1 blown lead to the Rockets in 2015 stands out, as does the core’s final run in 2017, losing to the Jazz in the first round in seven games. They also blew a pair of 2-0 leads to lose four straight in 2016 and 2013 to the Trail Blazers and Grizzlies. But that’s the reflection of a team’s performance.
Paul’s co-workers failed to step up to the plate at times, but he rarely let anyone down. Finally, alongside James Harden, he’s reaping the benefits of that.
So what now for Paul?
A nine-time All-Star, four-time NBA All-First Team member, and seven-time All-Defensive First Team member, Paul hasn’t had anything to prove in the NBA for a long, long time. A ring might win over some of his haters, but those who truly appreciate Paul for the two-way player he is won’t need him to earn one.
Averaging 19 points on 37 percent three-point shooting, 10 assists and five rebounds for his career, Paul has cemented himself as a first-ballot Hall of Famer even if he were to call his career a close right now.
Now, at the very least, he came wipe away a blemish that never truly mattered anyway.