The Phoenix Suns began the NBA Finals doing what they were supposed to do in taking care of their home court and heading to Milwaukee up 2-0.
But from there, it all fell apart. And as a result of losing four straight, Chris Paul’s postseason track record and questions about his legacy are being brought to the forefront.
Before the Bucks’ 105-98 Game 6 victory on Tuesday to win their first NBA title in 50 years, there was a stat circulating that if Paul and the Suns felt short, he would be the first player to lose four best-of-seven series after his team was up 2-0. And that’s what happened.
While there’s no disputing a factual record, many have taken that account of history to mean Paul is primarily to blame for the multiple shortcomings.
In the instance of this series, holding Paul liable for the four consecutive losses takes away from the historic series Giannis Antetokounmpo had in securing NBA Finals MVP. It takes away from the defensive adjustments made by Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer after Game 2. It takes away from the timely daggers Khris Middleton delivered.
Looking solely at Paul’s numbers against the Bucks, he performed in star fashion: 21.8 points per game, 8.2 assists per game, 54.4% from the field and 48.7% from 3-point range. He averaged 5.4 more points than he did in the regular season.
Now, where Paul’s production dipped was in the ball-security department. In the first round against the Los Angeles Lakers, he committed 1.5 turnovers a game. In the series with the Denver Nuggets, he trimmed it to 1.25 turnovers. In the conference finals against the Los Angeles Clippers, it went north to 2.0.
But the Bucks got the best of him, forcing a spike of 3.5 turnovers a game. Budenholzer made the switch of assigning Jrue Holiday to harass the future Hall of Famer, and it altered the dynamic of the series.
Nevertheless, the main reason Paul and the Suns dropped the series is because they had no answer for Antetokounmpo. Teams who’ve had success against him in the postseason built a wall around him defensively, which limited his efficiency.
The Greek Freak had heavy doses of one-on-one matchups with Deandre Ayton throughout the series and he exploited those battles.
Phoenix going away from swinging the ball to holding the ball for isolations hurt, as well.
The better team from top to bottom won. Milwaukee has been knocking on the door of this moment for the last few years, and the moves made in the offseason were intended to get them over the hump.
No one expected the Suns to be here. And while Paul can’t evade his postseason record, context matters.
Paul is one of the league’s bright stars and has been for more than a decade, but he’s not a carry-a-team-on-his-back dynamic scorer that we associate with other stars. He’s one of the few pass-first point guards left in the league and the only star player who plays that way.
He can score, which he’s shown, but he’s a playmaker first. The Suns being in this position with a roster largely absent of playoff experience prior to this season speaks volumes to the skill set and leadership of Paul.
Will the legacy of Paul take a hit with public perception? Likely so, and it’s because he is regarded as one of the greats to play his position. But context does matter.
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