What’s going on with Chris Paul?
Chris Paul may have joked about committing seven turnovers on his 37th birthday in Friday’s Game 3 of this Western Conference Semifinals series.
Two days later, his mind was clearly obsessed with fans harassing his family when discussing Sunday’s Game 4 at Dallas where he committed a foul in just 23 minutes and one second of play.
“It was a blur,” a visibly disturbed Paul said after scoring just five points on 2-of-4 shooting in Game 4.
The Mavericks released a second statement Monday as they concluded their investigation into the incidents.
“American Airlines Center and Dallas Mavericks security and leadership have concluded the investigation into the incident involving the Paul family. responded immediately when notified by family and fans were promptly removed from the game. Fans involved in the incident will not be permitted to return to the arena until 2023.”
On the court, Paul went from scoring 14 of his 28 points in the fourth quarter in the Game 2 win to give the Phoenix Suns a 2-0 series lead to having two of the worst performances of his NBA career that came ended in defeats.
Between turnovers, fouls and the Suns being out of rhythm offensively with Dallas physically playing both sides with a goal of wearing him down, Paul faces his share of hurdles in this series.
‘Check it out like a man, bro’
Now, Phoenix enters Game 5 on Tuesday with their ground general having more on their mind than the game, but also know that Paul has shown the ability to bounce back from poor performances with much better ones.
“The one thing people forget about guys like Chris is that they have to be watched,” Suns coach Monty Williams said after practice Monday.
“And I called him last night just to verify that he was a man, a brother. It was Mother’s Day and your parents and your wife at the game and they’re being harassed. And then you have a tough game. I wasn’t even concerned about the game as much as I was about him as a man who handled that.”
Williams waited until Monday to talk basketball with Paul and how the top-seeded Suns can regain control of the series against the fourth-seeded Mavericks.
“We came back to the conversation about how to get back to being solid and playing regular Suns basketball,” Williams said.
Getting Paul to play better is a sure way for Phoenix to get back to the form he showed in Phoenix in Games 1 and 2.
When breaking down Paul’s game in Dallas, the two glaring issues were turnovers in Game 3 and fouls in Games 3 and 4.
Turnovers, fouls and more
He committed his seven turnovers in the first half of Game 3 and finished Friday night with four fouls.
Two days later, Paul committed four fouls in the first half of Game 4, with the last one coming 1.1 seconds from the end of the second quarter.
Williams said he shouldn’t have put Paul down with three fouls with 45.7 seconds remaining. He reinserted Paul into the games late in the first half to get a good possession or two before the break.
For the most part, the move had led to a good shot at worst, but the move backfired this time. Paul then fouled early in the fourth despite playing just four minutes into the second half of Game 4.
Paul committed his fourth foul after his own foul.
If Paul makes it, Phoenix enters the half down eight, but they instead trailed by 12 as Luka Doncic hit both free throws after the midair collision between the two.
“I saw he was going for the rebound,” Doncic said. “I was surprised and then he said to me, ‘did I push you so hard?’ I said, “No, not that hard, but it was a smart game.” He said, ‘I know.’
Doncic and Paul have become an interesting dynamic in this series.
‘One of the best’
The Mavs All-Star has a ton of respect for Paul.
“He’s one of the best point guards this league has ever had,” said Doncic.
But with all due respect, the 6-7 Doncic is seven inches taller and 55 pounds heavier than Paul based on their height/weight measurements on the team rosters.
So when Paul keeps Doncic, he has to bear the brunt of that height difference.
Paul fouls Doncic at times, but Doncic takes advantage of the situation and fouls Paul as well.
This battle could have repercussions on Paul’s energy.
Not having more than a day off between games could also be a problem for Paul.
The Suns and Mavs have played alternate days and will remain on that schedule until Game 6 in Dallas.
There are two days between Game 6 on Thursday and Game 7 on Sunday, if necessary.
Wear it down
Mavericks coach Jason Kidd already had a plan to wear Paul down during the series.
“That doesn’t happen in a game,” Kidd said ahead of Friday’s third game. “It’s a series where you have to take a broader approach. He understands the game at a very, very high level. Understands how to get off the ball, understands how to rest in the game. So it’s tough. So when you see him in the fourth quarter, he’s on a different level and we have to match that energy he’s got. He’s the best at dictating the game.”
The Mavs made sure Paul struggled to do that in Games 3 and 4 in a number of ways.
First, they upped the tempo of the game to have the Suns rushing to find shots.
So Paul doesn’t have as much time to find the open man. He’s averaging just 5.5 assists in this series against the Mavs after racking up 11.3 in the first round and a regular-season record 10.8.
“As we speed up the flow of the game, you start to tend to shoot first sight,” Suns forward Jae Crowder said.
Two, Jalen Brunson and Doncic each drew fouls on Paul when the opportunity arose.
“He had some foul issues and we were trying to chase him down,” Doncic said after Game 4. “If you don’t have CP there, it’s definitely more difficult for the team.”
Brunson is playing with more confidence after struggling in Games 1 and 2 while Doncic is enjoying the competition between him and Paul.
Paul sometimes gets in the back, a point Pelicans head coach Willie Green made early in the season when talking about facing his close friend.
Green’s goal was to get Paul to work on defense to help burn him out, so he won’t be so fresh in the fourth quarter to separate the opposition by scoring and passing.
This strategy, in addition to having rookies Hebert Jones and Jose Alvarado play an all-court pressure defense on Paul, worked to some extent, but the Suns won the series with Paul having a huge closing performance from the match 6 of 33 points on a perfect 14 of 14. shooting.
Reggie Bullock took on that lead role for Dallas. He’s not as pesky as Alvarado or as tall or athletic as Jones, but he’s a seasoned veteran who understands how to use his body and angles.
When Paul is under pressure, the Suns tend to ask someone else to lift the ball. By doing this, Paul usually doesn’t get it back until later in the shot clock.
Although the Suns trust others to start the offense, Devin Booker and Cameron Payne are the only two besides Paul who can do so for more than one or two consecutive possessions.
“We have to bounce back”
Whenever that happens, Paul can still impact the attack, but not in a way to control it with the ball. Dallas will live with Paul playing more with the ball than with him.
Then there’s always the injury element that comes into play when it comes to Paul.
Prone to injury, Paul has his two middle fingers curled over his left hand, leading to speculation that he was injured.
All of that disappeared after his historic night of perfection in New Orleans where he had more clean shots than anyone else in a playoff game to close out the Pelicans.
He’s still locked in the game, but frustration with how the game is going can lead to Paul venting with the refereeing and having his mind on the whistle.
So, Paul’s dip in the game can be attributed to several things, but all will be forgotten if he’s successful in this series starting with Tuesday’s Game 5 at Phoenix.
“We have to bounce back,” Paul said.
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