Chris Paul’s lead has Suns out for ‘revenge’

PHOENIX – He manipulates everything from the clock to the opponent’s defensive cover to the umpires with some well-timed trickery.

It’s fair to say that the Dallas Mavericks fell apart in the last 12 minutes of a winable Game 2 that would have given a young team so much momentum before heading home for a few games.

But it’s more likely to say Chris Paul set them apart in every way with another stellar fourth-quarter performance, his last as a 36-year-old.

A six-point lead became 10, then 15, then infinite, as Paul used all his stones to take the Suns to a 2-0 lead in the Western Conference semifinals with a 129-109 win over Footprint Center. Fourteen of Paul’s 28 points came in the last quarter – all in the first six minutes.

He continued to look to the Dallas sidelines, gesturing to coach Jason Kidd, to others as his destruction appeared almost in slow motion. Faster defenders flew past him, but he outpaced the jumpers by ascending to his sweet spots for devastating twos.

Knowing he had Dallas on the line, Paul gestured for the “time-out” sign at 8:05 a.m. of the fourth. He scored or assisted in the first 19 points of the quarter and closed the door – letting everyone know.

Backcourt mate Devin Booker called it a “Revenge Tour” for the Suns, who look like a mission to avenge their Finals loss to the Milwaukee Bucks last summer.

And Paul is the unwavering, gruff general.

“Just in the game. Technicians don’t need to be called or anything,’ said Paul. “When you’re in the playoffs, both teams are busy, joining in and saying things. It’s all in the game.”

Of the four remaining point guards in the West, Paul is the most traditional – the one who can take the game plan from the whiteboard and execute it in real time, the one who can make instant adjustments, and so far the one who can switch it and into another. essence can change when the time demands it.

It’s also the perfect dichotomy with his former teammate, James Harden, who looks like a shell of himself, struggling through the discomfort of his body and new circumstances, seemingly unable to adapt.

Phoenix Suns guard Chris Paul reacts to the Dallas Mavericks during Game 2 of the Western Conference Semifinals at Footprint Center in Phoenix on May 4, 2022. (Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY Sports)

When Paul split from Harden and Houston after the 2018-19 season, Harden was by far considered the safer bet in terms of longevity. Paul’s days as the first fast, athletic and fast floor leader were at stake.

But time has proven that Paul is better at figuring things out – first in Oklahoma City for a while and now in Phoenix as a fast-moving performer. No longer the physical wonder, he dominates with preparation and a maniacal competitive edge not often seen for someone his age.

In a way, he’s taken a signal from Kidd. Kidd went from being a one-man pressure cooker in his prime to an uber-cerebral, pick-your-spots point guard in his later years. He hit key shots in the 2011 playoff run for Dallas, even though he wasn’t the best version of himself.

It could be argued that Paul is close enough to his best self even though he turns 37 on Friday – the day of Game 3. In closing the Suns’ first round series against New Orleans last Friday night, Paul shot a score of 14 before 14.

“He has a matchup that he likes and you can get the [opposing bench] yelling, ‘Send him to the left.’ You can try whatever you want, but he has a rebuttal at every turn,” Booker said. “Tough match-up.”

Playing with an edge can often manifest itself in ways that cannot be excused, but at least understood in the form of relentless competitiveness, while knowing that the odds of that golden ball diminish every June.

“I’d love to sit here and tell you I knew why or how he’s doing it,” said Suns coach Monty Williams. “I just think, I don’t know if our guys expect it, but I know they’re grateful for it. And you can kind of see when he starts to go. Everyone is following suit.”

When the Suns are at their most dangerous, Paul is the great prankster. Booker jokes about watching Paul just past toddlerhood, but he has enveloped and mastered Paul’s sense of timing.

“Just the way he manipulates it” [the game], honestly,” Booker said. “I’ve just always admired the way he does that. He is in control at all times, he is two, three steps ahead of whatever the other team is doing. And the leadership, that can never go unnoticed when you talk about this man. The way he holds people accountable, the will to win.”

Booker scored a swift eight points in under two minutes as the Suns trailed two at halftime, part of his team-high 30 points along with four rebounds and four assists. For a man, they hold back with their strategy regarding Luka Doncic, who had another big game with 35 points on 15 of 22 shooting.

But obviously they want to exhaust him with multiple defenders, and in a way they’ve taken the ego out of the equation.

“Just win the game,” Williams said, referring to the fact that his team doesn’t care how much Doncic scores as long as the result is satisfactory.

Paul and Booker shared a stage in the postgame, they just looked at each other and smiled when a question came their way about Doncic and attacked him defensively.

“They try to go to matchups that they like, and we do the same,” Booker said. “A difficult match to guard, but he deserves it.”

Doncic is running out of options, with only Reggie Bullock a prolific teammate. Some suffer from a lack of opportunities while other times Doncic can be his own worst enemy with seven turnovers.

Jalen Brunson struggled again with Phoenix’s length (3 of 12 shots) and was a late victim of Paul chasing him to make an offensive error on the run in the fourth quarter.

A much more complete team, Phoenix is ​​going to its backup big man Bismack Biyombo when Deandre Ayton and JaVale McGee were in deep trouble. December’s pick-up scored all four of his field goals in 18 minutes, keeping Phoenix afloat until Paul was ready to appear in his comfortable role.

If closer.

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