Chris Paul didn’t mention the Houston Rockets by name, but the implication made it fairly clear. “A couple years ago, they was writing me off,” said Paul, who was traded away 23 months ago. “You can’t do this.”
As it turned out, Paul certainly could do this. On Sunday, the future Hall of Famer had a game-high 37 points and 7 assists on incredible 14-of-19 shooting (73.7%) from the field, leading Phoenix past Denver (box score) in Game 4 of the Western Conference semifinals. The win, which secured a series sweep for the Suns, means that the “Point God” will play in the conference finals for just the second time in his storied career.
His first trip was in 2018, with the Rockets. That playoff run finished in heartbreak, with Paul’s season ending abruptly with a hamstring strain in the final seconds of a Game 5 victory in the conference finals — which had put Houston just one game away from knocking off defending champion Golden State. Without Paul, though, they couldn’t seal the deal.
Paul suffered another Grade 2 hamstring strain early in the ensuing season, and he was never quite the same in the 2018-19 regular season or the 2019 playoffs. That offseason, Houston traded Paul and a significant amount of future draft considerations to Oklahoma City for Russell Westbrook, reportedly due to a demand by James Harden. A year later, the Thunder entered into a rebuild and dealt Paul to the Suns.
As for the Rockets, the Paul-Westbrook trade didn’t result in the title that Harden wanted. Only one season after the blockbuster deal, “The Beard” leveraged his way to Brooklyn. Subsequently, Houston finished 2020-21 with the league’s worst record, and the Paul-Westbrook trade could cause them to tumble from the No. 5 draft pick this summer to No. 18, depending on the results of the league’s June 22 draft lottery.
It’s unclear if the relationship and trust between Paul, Harden, and the Rockets could have been restored after their exit from the 2019 playoffs — again at the hands of the rival Warriors. But the extra compensation attached to Paul to obtain Westbrook certainly appears to be excessive, based on recent results and Paul’s significantly improved health in the two seasons since. Paul was an All-Star in both years, and he finished No. 5 in Most Valuable Player (MVP) voting this season. The Suns (51-21) went from missing the playoffs in 2020 to the West’s No. 2 seed in 2021.
Now 36 years old and somehow still defying the usual NBA aging curve, “CP3” isn’t shy about letting all that be known in 2021. (Though in fairness, he could also be calling out the league as a whole for the widely held idea in 2019 that he had negative trade value, owing to what was seen by many as an overpaid contract. In hindsight, this was wrong.)
See below for video of Sunday’s complete postgame comments.