NBA

Chris Paul reaches first Western Conference Finals in emphatic fashion

Jay Asser 18:00 09/05/2018
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Chris Paul had 41 points, 10 assists and no turnovers in Game 5.

Chris Paul destroyed the most condemning narrative of his career with one of his best playoff performances.

This season for the Houston Rockets has been so much about James Harden’s MVP calibre campaign, but in Game 5 against the Utah Jazz, the spotlight was fixated on Paul.

The veteran point guard had a sizzling night with 41 points, 10 assists, seven rebounds and no turnovers in a 112-102 victory to finally advance to the first conference finals of his career.

It’s been a long time coming for Paul, who has played 86 playoff games without ever appearing in the third round, the most in NBA history.

That fact has been a dark cloud hanging over Paul’s Hall of Fame-worthy career, in which he’s been one of the best point guards to ever play.

Now that he’s broken through the one barrier that had for so long eluded him, Paul isn’t ready to celebrate. His previous inability to reach the conference finals will no longer be used against him, but if he ends his career without a title, that will be more than enough ammunition for some to downplay his impact.

“I don’t know, is that what you play for?” Paul said of advancing. “For us, like we said before the game and every game, they’re in our way.”

Paul, alongside Harden, will now face the defending champion Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference Finals.

It will be the second trip to third round for Harden, but if not for Paul’s presence, it may not have happened – or been delayed at the very least.

On a night Harden was under the weather and struggling to score, finishing with 18 points on 7-of-22 shooting, the value of Paul was on full display.

The 33-year-old grabbed the reins of the offence and dominated, especially in the fourth quarter when he had 20 points – the highest-scoring quarter of his career, regular season or playoffs, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

Paul was a killer off the dribble and delivered dagger after dagger by shooting 13-of-18 on jump shots, including a hyper-efficient 8-of-10 on 3-pointers.

The veteran has hardly been needed to do it all this season due to Harden’s brilliance, but the win was a reminder of the luxuries Houston are equipped with.

“Unbelievable,” Harden said of Paul. “He took over the game. He put us on his back and said, ‘listen, I got us.’ That’s big time, a big time performance.

“He got in his bag and he called everybody off. He said, ‘you get out the way.’ He had that look in his eyes. I don’t care what you say, if he has that look in his eyes every single night, he’s a problem.”

Paul is now as close as he’s ever been to a championship, but a monumental obstacle awaits.

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