PHOENIX — After coming up small in what would have been the biggest win of his career, missing out on taking a 3-1 lead over the Milwaukee Bucks in the NBA Finals, Phoenix Suns point guard Chris Paul went to the tape.
Just like Paul and teammate Devin Booker reviewed the film from Game 3, finding cracks in the Bucks’ defense that Booker could exploit as his scoring output ballooned from 10 points in Game 3 to 42 in Game 4, the backcourt mates watched the fourth quarter from Wednesday’s 109-103 loss almost immediately after the game was over to find ways for Paul to improve.
There’s seemingly nowhere for Paul to go but up after he finished with 10 points on 5-for-13 shooting and five turnovers, matching the amount of miscues that Milwaukee had as a team.
While Paul’s disappointment of going back home tied at 2-2 rather than being one win away from the first championship of his 16-year career goes without saying, Suns coach Monty Williams said he hasn’t noticed any change in his demeanor.
“I just seeing Chris being Chris,” Williams said after practice Friday. “He’s always intentional about everything. He’s focused. I find myself struggling when I can’t help him. That’s what we’ve talked about the last couple of days. But Chris is fine. He’s focused. He’s always about winning.”
The Suns went 2-0 at home to start the Finals and Paul shined, averaging 27.5 points and 9.5 assists. When the series moved to Milwaukee, Paul’s game went south, putting up 14.5 points and 8 assists in Games 3 and 4.
“The conversations are all about basketball right now. We know what’s in front of us,” Williams said. “You know Chris Paul, I mean, everybody in here has seen him. There’s not a person in our locker room that’s not expecting him to not come out and play really well the next game. … His focus is at a high, high level right now.”
Paul looked so off in Game 4 that some wondered if the partially torn ligaments in his right hand, which he suffered in the conference finals, had flared up.
“No, I’m good,” Paul assured, when asked about the hand on Friday.
Williams backed up Paul’s claim of a clean bill of health.
“Yeah, he’s fine,” Williams said. “Other than having to deal with me, he’s good.”
While two of Paul’s turnovers helped fuel a 17-8 run by the Bucks in the final four minutes — after the Suns led for 38 of the 44 minutes preceding that — Paul said the benefit of playing for as long as he has is being able to move forward, be it coming off an inspiring win or a crushing loss.
“It’s something I don’t dwell on. Even though it may be an anomaly, it happens. I turned the ball over hella times before,” Paul said. “End of the day, we got to win the game. Me turning the ball over is not giving us enough shots at the basket. I’ll figure it out.”
Williams’ dismissed Paul’s Game 4 struggles, calling them merely “a blip” on the radar in an otherwise surefire Hall of Fame career.
Paul said it’s only right that the Finals would be hard, considering all the heartbreak he dealt with on the court in 16 years to get here.
“I hate it, but it’s that simple,” Paul said. “We didn’t sweep but one series, so this is what happens in a series. That’s why they make it seven games. This is the Finals. It’s dramatic. We got to protect home court and win the game tomorrow.”