Chris Paul turns 37 years old in a couple of days. That’s right, one of the three best point guards left in the playoffs (it’s Paul, Steph Curry and Ja Morant in my book), is by all accounts a senior citizen in the NBA.
Don’t tell the Point God that though, because he certainly isn’t playing like it in these playoffs. He keeps coming up with big second half performances, and that was again the case in Game 2 against the Dallas Mavericks in their second round matchup.
If you look at his overall line of 28 points, six rebounds and eight assists on 11 of 16 shooting, you would think that yeah, he had a pretty good game. How he got those stats is what matters though, because he did the bulk of his damage in the fourth quarter when the game was still on the line.
With the Suns only ahead by three points early in the fourth quarter, Paul took over and scored 14 points and dished out an assist in a run that saw the Suns go from an 89-86 lead to a 108-93 advantage in the span of less than four minutes.
That run essentially put the game out of reach, because the Mavericks were so shellshocked and never put together a solid response. It’s become such a common theme this postseason, but it really does feel like CP3 can take over a game whenever he feels like it.
Paul didn’t win the game on his own, as Devin Booker also found his stride in the second half after he and Paul combined for a total of 17 points over the first two quarters. The Suns’ leading scorer at halftime was Jae Crowder, who had 15 points, and that was already a clear sign that the 60-58 halftime lead that the Mavericks had was nothing but a smokescreen. Crowder would not score another point in the game, because the second half was all about the Suns’ star backcourt duo.
Booker lit it up in the third quarter with 12 points, setting the stage for his backcourt mate to go on his own big run in the fourth.
By the time the final whistle was blown, Booker finished the game with 30 points, four rebounds and four assists. That’s right, Paul and Booker turned 17 combined halftime points into 58 by the end of the game.
Luka Doncic is continuing to pay his dues
Luka Doncic may have finally made it out of the first round, but now he’s learning how much more help he’s going to need if the Mavericks are going to make any serious attempts at title contention.
The Slovenian followed up his 45 points in Game 1 with 35 points, five rebounds and seven assists in Game 2. However, only two other Mavericks scored in double figures. Reggie Bullock put up 16 points, while Spencer Dinwiddie had 11 points. There is only so much that Doncic can do for this franchise if he’s going to keep seeing performances like that from his teammates, as Jalen Brunson, who was the darling of Mavericks fans in the first round, only mustered up nine points while shooting 3 of 12 from the field.
Doncic is pretty much unstoppable, and we can all acknowledge that. He’s supremely skilled, has a competitive fire, and is capable of greatness.
Unfortunately, as many former NBA champions have learned, individual greatness is not enough to reach the promised land. I personally feel pretty bad for him, but also think that these are the kind of lumps a great player needs to take early in their career before they start going really deep into the playoffs. Ja Morant had to take his lumps against Utah in the first round last year, and look at where he is now. The key difference though, is that Morant plays for a Memphis Grizzlies team that can win without him, and his greatness is being buoyed by good teammates who are able to cover for the areas that he’s lacking in.
Doncic is 23 years old. He probably hasn’t even reached his peak yet, even though he’s been a pro since he was 16. He’s got no reason to panic, but the Mavericks might. His contract extension, worth more than $200 million, kicks in next season, so he’s under contract until 2026-27. However, if the Mavericks can’t start constructing a strong roster for him in the next couple of years, he might force his way out. In the player empowerment area, there’s nothing more dangerous than having a star who is forced to watch his other peers attain greater team success.