Teammate Jae Crowder kept asking him in the fourth quarter if he could taste it yet, referring to sweet victory. Paul’s replies were no.
That was bad news for the Los Angeles Clippers.
Midway in that final frame with Los Angeles up 23, Clippers pesky guard Patrick Beverley was hounding the star guard defensively. Paul asked for a pick from Deandre Ayton and got the switch he wanted in Marcus Morris.
He slowly dribbled him down and then elevated at the top of the arc, finding nothing but the bottom of the net over the outstretched arms of Morris. That was the dagger. The Clippers immediately called timeout.
Sources: Patrick Beverley faces suspension for shove of Chris Paul
As both teams were walking to their respective huddles, Paul and Beverley passed by each other and the future Hall of Famer gave Beverley a side glance Beverley obviously couldn’t handle.
In the epitome of a bush-league move, Beverley shoved Paul in the lower back, prompting him to spill over. Fortunately, there was no escalation and Beverley was ejected from the game.
“It hurts. It stings,” Paul said of what Beverley must have felt after that dagger triple signaled the end of their postseason run.
“I just think it built up on Pat,” C.J. Paul, Chris' older brother, told Yahoo Sports. “That’s not a way to end it. I don’t know why he did that. I’ve looked at the play a few times and all Chris did was look at him, and that look was everything. That’s when you knew he took his heart. It’s crazy.
“[Beverley] has dictated certain outcomes with the way he plays by diving at Russ [Westbrook’s knee], leading to a meniscus tear, breaking Devin Booker’s nose and undercutting Chris. It’s not cool. I’m sure the league will step in and do something, but what he does is not how the game should be played.”
Beverley will face a suspension to start next season for that dangerous behind-the-back push, sources told Yahoo Sports.
Chris Paul embraces 'small-guy complex' to finally reach NBA Finals
Paul’s 41-point outburst of pure offensive dominance shoved the Suns back to the NBA Finals for the first time in 28 years, and it’s the first time the 16-year veteran has advanced to this stage.
“It’s a long time coming, and I’m finally happy he has a chance to win a title. But it’s great to see all the hard work paying off to get to this point,” C.J. Paul told Yahoo Sports. “Daryl Morey said he wasn’t going to trade Chris. Think about that. And now he’s going to the Finals on a team that three and four years ago he never would have played at. We thought Houston was going to be the last stop, and now it’s been two more stops. We’re just enjoying this, and I’m just happy for Chris.”
Paul was 16-of-24 from the field, 7-of-8 from behind the arc and dished out eight assists in 35 minutes.
Paul may not have retaliated when it came to that push, but he was willing to do it in the context of the game.
“He’s always been the little guy everywhere. He had the small-guy complex growing up. He was always angry. He knew he always had to do more than everyone else. He does so much and plays so hard and passionate,” C.J. Paul told Yahoo Sports. “I tell people we couldn’t play on the same team. He’s not the easiest guy to play with. He’s two different people: A butthole on the court, and off the court, he’s chill. But that small-guy mentally is why he’s the player he is today.”
Chris Paul: 'I'll get the last laugh'
The Clippers’ bench, particularly DeMarcus Cousins, continued jawing at Paul after the Beverley shove. At one point, Cousins shouted: “That’s why nobody f*** with your ass.”
Phoenix was up a comfortable 24 points with 2:07 remaining in the game when Devin Booker grabbed a defensive rebound. Paul adamantly demanded the ball while simultaneously jawing back with Cousins. He received the ball and was determined to add to his point total to run up the score, but that plan was halted when official Marc Davis whistled him for a taunting technical.
Paul didn’t argue, and he was subsequently subbed out for the night.
“All that woofing. It ain’t nothing,” Paul said of Cousins. “ … I just kept thinking if we do what we’re supposed to do, I’ll get the last laugh. You stay the course long enough, and you’ll break them. And that’s what we did.”
Known more for his table-setting, no one expected this type of a performance from Paul.
“There were questions about his production before tonight, and in my heart, I felt like it was a matter of time. I didn't know it was going to be like that, but that's who Chris is,” Suns coach Monty Williams said. “He was tired and he was still making those kinds of plays — getting to the basket, the threes, orchestrating everything. I'm grateful that I get to coach him again.”
The knocks on Paul were that he was a regular-season performer who would flame out in the postseason. Having endured multiple series of being up only to falter led some onlookers to cast doubt on the legitimacy of his legacy.
“I would say the pivotal moment of his career was not being able to help Houston when he pulled his hamstring in the conference finals against Golden State. You think you’ve done everything and your body just let you down,” C.J. Paul told Yahoo Sports. “And then in December, it happened again. That changed his mindset. We changed trainers, he switched up his diet and he’s pretty much been durable ever since. But before, he was always rehabbing to make himself better.”
“Paul is stamped regardless,” Booker said of Paul’s merit. “Anything else from here is extra. It's extra, just to solidify. I know he wants it bad. I know he's happy about this for his first time, but I know what he's on the pursuit of and we have that same understanding. We don't talk about it much, but we know what we're trying to get to. But as far as he needs a ring to be considered — he's one of the best point guards to ever play the game, and that's a fact. And everybody knows that. Arguably the best.”
A new horizon for the Suns, Devin Booker
Most of the Suns have never been here, coach included. It’s been an improbable run that marches on and they’re doing it with poise and class, something you wouldn’t expect from a young group.
“What we’re seeing right now is what we would have saw if Chris got the chance to play with Kobe [Bryant]. I feel like Dev [Booker] is the closest to Kobe that we have in this league, and I’m not trying to put pressure on him,” C.J. Paul told Yahoo Sports. “Chris is playing with a younger Kobe Bryant. Those two have the same mentality, both being dogs. We’re seeing a Chris and a younger Kobe.”
They’ve got the right leadership in place in Williams and Paul.
“People wrote him off. When you put him with guys he can lead, the sky’s the limit,” C.J. Paul told Yahoo Sports. “Oklahoma City and Phoenix allowed him to be himself and lead. When he played football growing up, he was the leader. That’s what he does. This was a great situation for him.”
They may not be the fanciest team with their style of play, but they’re shoving excellence down the throat of the opponent and are now four wins away from the ultimate prize.
That’s the push that drives Paul and the Suns.
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