After Chris Paul erupted for 19 points in the fourth quarter of the Suns’ series opener against the Pelicans, Paul dutifully reminded TNT’s Shaquille O’Neal in the post-game interview that “[Devin] Booker’s our guy, he’s our go-to guy.” In the first half of Game 2, Booker obliged, shooting and dapping his way to 31 points by halftime. It was a close game and Booker kept the Suns afloat despite off-nights by every other Sun not named Mikal Bridges. Then, with 4:48 to go in the third quarter, as Booker was chasing Jaxson Hayes on the fastbreak, he pulled his right hamstring.
Just like that, CP3 was hit with bad postseason luck. The cosmic unfairness that has befallen Paul over the course of his NBA postseason career defies belief. If you don’t believe in curses, Paul’s history will force you to think twice. The list is too long to be mere coincidence:
• In 2008, CP3 made his playoff debut and the Hornets pushed Tim Duncan’s Spurs to seven games in the West semis. Game 7 was officiated by Scott Foster.
• In 2009, Tyson Chandler suffered a toe injury and missed 15 of the team’s final 16 games of the regular season. Chandler returned in the playoffs but played only 94 minutes in the series and sat out Game 5 as New Orleans fell 4-1 in the first round to the Nuggets.
• In 2011, the Hornets’ leading scorer, David West, tore his ACL in the final week of March and missed the playoffs. CP3 put up a valiant effort in the first round against Kobe Bryant and the Lakers, but the Hornets didn’t have enough firepower as they bowed out in six in Paul’s final season with the franchise that drafted him.
• During Paul’s first year with the Clippers in 2012, the team’s third-leading scorer and former Finals MVP Chauncey Billups tore his left Achilles tendon 20 games into the lockout-shortened season. The Clippers would eventually get swept in the West semis by San Antonio and while Billups probably wouldn’t have swung that series, his veteran leadership could’ve at least made it more competitive.
• In 2013, Blake Griffin sprained his ankle during practice ahead of Game 5 in a 2-2 first round series against the Memphis Grizzlies, which he re-aggravated during the game. The Clippers lost Game 5 and a hobbled Griffin was limited to 14 minutes in Game 6 as the Grizzlies wrapped up the series.
• Paul suffered a hamstring injury in Game 7 of their 2015 first round series against the Spurs. CP3 put on a gutsy performance and hit the game-winner to clinch the series against the defending champs. He ended up missing the next two games of the second round against Houston but returned to help the Clippers take a 3-1 lead in what appeared to be Lob City’s best chance to win a title… then Doc Rivers-with-a-3-1-lead happened.
• In 2016, Paul broke a bone in his right hand during Game 4 of the first round contest against the Blazers. The Clippers were up 2-1 at that point; they would not win another game in the series.
• In Paul’s final year in L.A. in 2017, Griffin suffered a plantar plate injury in Game 3 of their first round series against the Utah Jazz. Griffin did not return and that was the end of the Lob City era Clippers.
• After being traded to Houston, Paul and James Harden led the team to 65 wins and cruised through the first two rounds of the 2018 playoffs. They pushed the dynastic Warriors to the brink in the Western Conference Finals, but an injury in the dying seconds of Game 5 forced him out of the next two games as the Warriors overcame a 3-2 deficit.
• In the 2020 bubble, Paul’s OKC was on the verge of upsetting his former team, Houston. As CP3’s luck would have it, Foster was part of the officiating crew and he made it a point to remind Paul that he also reffed CP3’s Game 7 loss to the Spurs in 2008. OKC lost by two. (Note: Paul is now 0-14 in games officiated by Foster, including Game 2 against the Pelicans.)
• Last year, he suffered a stinger on his shoulder in the opening game of the playoffs against the Lakers, which limited his effectiveness for much of the series. After a dominant performance in the Suns’ sweep of the Nuggets, he missed the first two games of the conference finals against the Clippers due to COVID-19 despite being fully vaccinated. He then got whacked on the hand upon his return and had to play through partially torn ligaments on his shooting hand the rest of the postseason.
So when Booker got hurt on what should’ve been an innocuous play, my first reaction was, “oh boy, here we go again.” Just when it seemed like Paul’s selflessness—as exemplified by his response to Shaq after Game 1—has finally exorcised the curse, it struck again. Like Will Smith reminding us last month that everybody hates Chris Rock (okay, maybe just Jada), the Universe reminded us that it still hates the greatest Chris in NBA history. Are the basketball gods upset that Paul is blasphemously called the ‘Point God’? Did Julius Hodge curse him after Paul’s nut punch while at Wake Forest 17 years ago?
Until Tuesday night, it was looking to be the Suns’ year. They came back strong from last year’s disappointment and have been laser sharp the entire season, breezing through 82 games with a franchise-record 64 wins—eight games clear of the second-best team. Paul has shown no signs of slippage at age-36 and bagged his fifth assists crown. Booker has taken a mini-leap and established himself as a true All-NBA caliber player. Bridges is a DPOY finalist. Deandre Ayton is more polished offensively. Cameron Johnson is a Sixth Man of the Year candidate. Monty Williams is a shoo-in to be the Coach of the Year.
They were playing the right way and everything was going right. Until it wasn’t. Booker will miss up to 2-3 weeks with a Grade 1 hamstring strain.
It’s not time to press the panic button yet; Phoenix is still good enough to advance to the second round sans Booker. Let’s not forget that they are 8-3 in meaningful games without him during the regular season and with all due respect to the Pelicans, the Suns’ winning percentage without either Booker or Paul is still way better than NO’s 36-46 mark. But as the Suns go deeper in the playoffs, the competition gets tougher. The longer Booker’s hamstring issue lingers, the longer their title odds become. And who knows what else the Universe has in store for CP3 the rest of the way?
At this point, it seems that the Suns’ best hope is for the human lucky charm Javale McGee to work his magic and neutralize CP3’s bad juju.