1. There’s nothing better than watching CP3 take over a playoff game
Chris Paul did it again. After torching the Pelicans for 19 points in the 4th quarter of Game 1, the Point God delivered another 19-point 4th quarter masterpiece on Game 3. Since making his playoff debut in 2008, Paul leads the entire league in 4Q + OT field goal percentage (min. 400 FGA) at 50.5%, ahead of Kawhi Leonard (50%), Kevin Durant (46.4%), Dwayne Wade (46.2%), and LeBron James (45.5%).
After spending time as James Harden’s overqualified sidekick in Houston and being an out-of-place star with the rebuilding Thunder, Paul has had a career renaissance these past two years with the Suns. Last postseason, he dropped 37 and 41 in closeout games against the Nuggets and Clippers. He’s not a pure scorer but his uncanny sense of the ebb and flow of the game allows him to pick his spots. He’s the smartest game manager I’ve ever seen, a true point guard who not only knows how to get everyone involved on offense but possesses a takeover ability not seen in any other great point guard over the last 20 years (a list that includes Jason Kidd and Steve Nash)
Watching CP3 work the 4th quarter is what I’d imagine Michael Jordan would’ve been if he were a 6-foot point guard. One thing I’ve always said about MJ is that while he was an unstoppable scorer, his understanding of when to take the game by the neck was unparalleled—this is an element of his greatness that tends to get lost with people who never saw him play. It’s not really basketball IQ but not as primordial as a ‘killer instinct’ either; it’s a certain feel for the game that is more akin to hedge fund manager Michael Burry short-selling the housing market in The Big Short.
Despite their stylistic differences, Paul is the closest thing I’ve seen anyone consistently exhibit that MJ trait. Not LeBron, not KD, not Steph Curry, not Kobe Bryant. Obviously, Paul has never actually won anything which may make the comparison difficult to appreciate for some but it doesn’t make it any less true.
2. KD’s legacy is taking a hit
The Nets are on the verge of elimination and Durant is looking like a mortal. He is yet to breach the 30-point mark in any game of the series (23, 27 and 16 points) while shooting a paltry 36.5% from the floor. He only has 15 4th quarter points through three games and, at this point, it seems like he is entering the phase of his career where his reputation precedes him but the on-court performance no longer matches it. He was badly outplayed by Jayson Tatum (39 points) in Game 3 in what felt like a ‘changing of the guard’ game.
KD will never admit it, but the reality is he needed to win multiple rings with the Nets if he wants to be in the all-time top 10 conversation. He was the best player on the planet when he won two Finals MVPs in 2017 and 2018 but people will never forget that he needed to join the 73-win Warriors with the unanimous MVP Steph to get his rings. The Warriors probably wouldn’t have won those without KD, so in a sense they needed KD too; but on the balance, it’s fair to say KD needed them more.
He’s in Year 3 at Brooklyn and they’ll once again fall short of the expectations. In hindsight, he must have a bit of regret not making his return at the 2020 Orlando bubble. It was already over a year after his Achilles injury and that turned out to be a winnable tournament. It was a zero-risk high-reward scenario for him. No travel meant less fatigue and longer recovery time in between games. It would’ve still been an asterisk ring, true, but he needed it regardless. Yet it’s not at all surprising given what we’ve seen with some of KD’s career decisions; he just ain’t built that way—no matter how Skip Bayless feels. At least, he doesn’t proclaim himself as the GOAT.
It’ll really be interesting how he, Steph, and Kawhi Leonard stack up against each other in the all-time rankings once they’ve all retired. Steph has the revolutionary game and regular season success. KD has the scoring numbers and clutch reputation. Kawhi has the defense and the most impressive postseason run. A discussion for another time.
3. Raptors are right where they want to be
In the NBA’s 75-year history, no team has ever come back from a 3-0 deficit to win a playoff series. Only three teams have forced a Game 7, the 1951 Knicks, the 1994 Nuggets, and most recently the 2003 Blazers. In baseball, no team has overcome a 3-0 deficit in MLB’s then 101-year history until the Boston Red Sox defeated the New York Yankees in the 2004 ALCS. It “only” took 23 years for the NHL to witness its first ever 3-0 comeback when Toronto Maple Leafs defeated the Detroit Red Wings in 1942 Stanley Cup Finals no less. It has since occurred three more times in the NHL.
It’s proven to be an impossible feat thus far in the NBA, but it was also once thought of as an impossibility in the MLB until the Red Sox pulled it off. In the wise words of Lloyd Christmas.
There are currently three teams facing 3-0 deficits in the first round, but one team might be better poised to pull off a historic comeback than others. The Raptors pulled one back against the Sixers to make it a 3-1 series. Joel Embiid is nursing a ligament tear on his right (shooting) thumb and it showed in his last game (7-for-16). Tyrese Maxey appears be cooling down (17.5ppg in Games 3 and 4 after averaging 30.5 in the first two). And, of course, Doc Rivers is the only coach in NBA history to blow not one, not two, but three 3-1 leads.
4. No buyer’s remorse
Nikola Jokic and the Denver Nuggets are about to be swept out of the postseason for the second year in a row, but I can’t stand dumbasses like Kendrick Perkins and Nick Wright acting like it makes Jokic less deserving of the regular season MVP. I repeat, in case the emphasis wasn’t enough, it’s a regular season award. There’s a thick red line between the regular season and the postseason and only blind people can’t see it. (Note: Jokic hasn’t officially been named yet, but this leaked vote tracker has him on pace to be named back-to-back MVP.)
Sure, it’s fair to criticize Joker’s performance in the series and say he needs to be better. He does. But it doesn’t make him any less deserving of the MVP. Those are two different conversations. You can’t look at the Sixers and Nuggets and conclude that Embiid is the real MVP because Philly is up 3-1 while Denver is down 0-3. That’s such an unnuanced barbershop take. Embiid has Maxey and James Harden against a Raptors team that lost newly minted Rookie of the Year Scottie Barnes in Game 1. Jokic has Aaron Gordon and Will Barton against the suddenly red-hot Warriors.
The only instance playoff performance may be a ground for reconsideration is if the two leading protagonists actually meet head-to-head in a playoff series and one guy absolutely destroys the other. Like Hakeem Olajuwon against David Robinson in 1995 or Jordan versus Karl Malone in 1997. But that’s not happening this year, so the point is moot.
5. Throwback video of the week
We’ve seen plenty of impressive performances from playoff debutantes through the first week, from Maxey to Jordan Poole to Desmond Bane to Jalen Brunson. 14 years ago, hedge fund manager CP3 had his own stellar debut, a 35-point 10-assist effort in a 104-92 win against the Mavs.