Chris Paul actually looked like Chris Paul in the Phoenix Suns’ 100-92 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers. After struggling through a shoulder injury for most of the series, Paul led the Suns in both points (18) and assists (nine) as they evened the series at 2-2 heading back to Phoenix. Yet, amazingly, the Suns almost missed out on the performance entirely. As Paul revealed after Game 4, he had to talk Suns coach Monty Williams out of benching him after three miserable performances earlier in the series.
“He said, ‘Coach, let me start, and if you don’t think I’m looking like I normally do, then take me out and we’ll have to go in a different direction,'” Williams said. “This is one of those situations that I had to trust the player.”
Williams would have been justified in turning to backup point guard Cameron Payne. He’d been the better player in the first three games of the series. Paul averaged only 6.7 points on 38.1 percent shooting in the first three games of the series. More distressingly, he didn’t even attempt a 3-pointer after the injury, and it eventually became clear to the Lakers that he didn’t intend to. They stopped respecting his shot and it grounded Phoenix’s offense to a halt. At one point in Game 3, the Suns scored only 18 points in 18 minutes. But aside from respecting a renaissance in Game 4, Paul had another reason for wanting to play.
“I hadn’t touched a basketball or anything since the last game,” Paul added. “We didn’t have a lot of guys that missed a lot of games this season, so we’re used to playing a certain way. I was just glad I could be out there and help.”
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No five-man lineup in basketball played more minutes than Phoenix’s starters this season. The combination of Paul, Devin Booker, Mikal Bridges, Jae Crowder and DeAndre Ayton spent 706 minutes on the court together. As well as Payne had played at times, Paul wanted to maintain that group’s continuity. The decision paid off handsomely, and now, it’s the Lakers who are dealing with injuries as both Anthony Davis and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope are uncertain for Game 5. The pressure is on Los Angeles right now, and it’s all thanks to Paul for convincing his coach that he was healthy enough to play.