With the series tied 2-2 and Blake Griffin injured, Chris Paul has to do everything. He is the team's hero, their source of power, and the most tragic figure in this metaphorical play.
Chris Paul has one of the most accurate nicknames in the NBA. Not "CP3" because that is in no way clever, indicative of his skill/personality, or even interesting. I'm referring to his occasional moniker of "Point God."
Chris Paul does things that nobody else in the past 25 years has done as point guard. He has never won an MVP, which is up there with Kobe only winning one on the "hey wait a minute..." scale, but since 2008 he has finished in the top 10 seven times and finished 13th once. His maintained level of excellence is nothing short of robotic.
For as much as we talk about LeBron and Kawhi being robots, why don't we talk about Chris Paul that way? For years there has been speculation that he's on the decline thanks to lingering injuries and continually being a little banged up. He'll turn 32 in about two weeks and has only cleared 75 games once since 2011-12. His minutes have been on a slow decline over the past four seasons, dropping from 35.0 down to 31.5 this year. Add these things together, and you might think that he sounds decidedly un-robotic.
He does seem that way; until you consider his stats.
Despite the diminishing playing time, Paul posted his best three-point shooting season and his 2nd best rebounding season in 2016-17. When you average it out and look at his per-36 minutes numbers, you're getting a version of Chris Paul that is arguably better than any other season.
Using per 36 stats, Chris Paul:
- Had his 3rd best scoring season (20.7)
- Had his 4th best assist season (10.6)
- Had his best rebounding season (5.7)
- Had another season of 2+ steals per 36 (2.2)
This is a guy whose win shares per 48 minutes haven't dipped below .200 since 2007-2008. For context, LeBron James can't make that same claim as his WS/48 dropped to .199 in his first year back in Cleveland. Paul's worst PER since joining the Clippers is 25.9. This year he was at 26.2
Look at all of the advanced stats on this guy and you'll see that, aside from minutes, he's still dominating.
Watch him play in this Clippers/Jazz series and you'll be heartbroken because he's stuck in a Sisyphean world, eternally unable to roll the stone to the mountaintop.
He does everything he can, exhausts all his possible energy, and then the stone starts rolling back down the slope.
Chris Paul has been outstanding in this series. Through four games he's averaging 26.8 points, 6.3 rebounds, 10.8 assists, and 2.3 steals. He's shooting 53% from the field and 37% on threes. He's now doing this without perennial All-Star Blake Griffin at his side. Without BG, there's even more pressure on Chris Paul to push through to the 2nd round.
Look at Paul's game four line in a losing effort: 38 minutes, 27 points, 9 rebounds, 12 assists, 2 turnovers. He didn't shoot the ball particularly well (1-6 on threes), but that's also not his game. His game is to make the right decisions which, by and large, he did. He is efficient, smooth with the ball, and precise with his passes. He is responsible for DeAndre Jordan being a multi-millionaire.
And what shall be his reward for getting past the Jazz, if he's able to do it? The Warriors, of course. The Warriors are the physical embodiment of a boulder rolling down a mountain, so this is perfect.
Through it all, we're not entirely sure how to feel about Chris Paul. We know he's great, but there's more to it. He has a history of low-blows (safe for work until about the 20-second mark), from college into the NBA. He has earned almost $140 million by playing basketball. He is impossibly annoying in State Farm commercials. He is a guaranteed Hall of Famer. He has reached the playoffs nine times, famously never passing round two. He won zero player of the month awards between December 2012 and April 2017.
He has done everything, and yet he has done nothing.
Whether these playoffs last another three games or another eight, Chris Paul will enter the off-season disappointed with his team's run. He is the pristine engine of a '67 Camaro, powering the car that is the Clippers ahead. While that engine is remarkably intact, the car has bullet holes in the side door, the turn signals aren't working, and the gas tank is leaking everywhere, creating a fire hazard.
This is Chris Paul's life.
Here's hoping he makes it out alive.