Less than two years from the date that he was traded from Houston to Oklahoma City and written off by many around the league, former Rockets guard and current Phoenix Suns star Chris Paul is headed to the NBA Finals for the first time in his Hall of Fame career.
After Wednesday’s clinching victory in the Western Conference finals, Paul said he writes “can’t give up now” on his sneakers before every game he plays. According to CP3, he’s done that since the surprising July 2019 trade that sent him from the Rockets to the Thunder.
In a new interview with Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports, CJ Paul — the older brother of Chris — says Paul wasn’t expecting to join any other teams after his arrival in Houston in June 2017. His comments:
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. 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.
In the Game 6 clincher, Paul scored a game-high 41 points on incredible 16-of-24 shooting (66.7%), and he also had 8 assists to 0 turnovers.
Paul’s first trip to the Western Conference finals was in 2018, with the Rockets. Unlike 2021, that series finished in heartbreak. Paul’s season ended abruptly because of a hamstring strain in the final seconds of a Game 5 victory, which had put Houston one game away from knocking off defending champion Golden State. Without Paul, though, they couldn’t seal the deal and lost in seven games to the eventual champions.
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, with the franchise reeling from a second-round playoff loss (again to Golden State), Houston traded Paul and future draft assets to Oklahoma City for Russell Westbrook — reportedly due to a demand by co-star 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 so deeply wanted. Only one season after the blockbuster deal and following another early playoff exit, “The Beard” leveraged his way to Brooklyn. Subsequently, Houston finished 2020-21 with the league’s worst record, while Harden’s Nets fell short of their lofty expectations with a loss in the second round of the 2021 playoffs to Milwaukee.
Paul, on the other hand, changed his body over the last two years (including a plant-based diet) with an emphasis on staying healthy, and he was able to finally lead his team to the ultimate destination. Now 36 years old and an 11-time All-Star, it’s the cherry on top of a legendary career — and it gives him the last word over Harden and the Rockets.
How recent Rockets are faring in the 2021 NBA playoffs
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