Chris Paul orchestrates Thunder comeback in New Orleans
NEW ORLEANS — Chris Paul pulled off his sunset Thunder jersey and handed it to three young boys. Their dad, Drew Brees, helped stretch the No. 3 jersey flat across one of his son’s arms so Paul could easily sign it.
The New Orleans Saints quarterback and the Thunder point guard chatted for several minutes outside the visitor’s locker room at Smoothie King Center after the Thunder’s 107-104 win Sunday evening against the Pelicans.
“Watch CP3’s eyes,” Brees told Paul, relaying the message Brees told his sons during the game. “His eyes are always up.”
“Today was like a coaching session watching you play,” Brees said.
Paul was comfortable in the town where he was once a co-star with Brees. More so, he was in control.
The Thunder trailed 94-89 when Pelicans point guard Lonzo Ball hit a 3-pointer with 5:15 left. But in a finish orchestrated by Paul’s precision, the Thunder went on a 12-0 run over the next three minutes.
Paul danced with Pelicans rookie center Jaxson Hayes on the final points of the run. He dribbled on the right wing and launched a high 3-pointer over the 6-foot-11 Hayes to beat the shot clock.
“That was weird, because I didn’t actually see Chris,” Thunder center Steven Adams said. “He just disappeared because of my angle … I was tracking the ball and ‘boom.’ That was cool.”
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Said Paul: “I done shot that shot maybe seven games straight and missed it. So, it finally went in. Probably luck.”
Paul accounted for seven points in the Thunder’s 12-0 fourth-quarter run. When the Pelicans double-teamed him at the top of the 3-point line, Paul gladly passed out of it, which eventually led to Thunder free throws as the Pelicans scrambled to match up.
“It was winning time,” Paul said. “Fortunately, I’ve been in that situation 1,000 times. If you don’t (double team) I’m gonna go downhill and be aggressive.”
Jrue Holiday led New Orleans with 26 points, but the Pelicans were doomed by clock mismanagement. Down by four points, Holiday settled for a 10-foot jumper with three seconds left.
Thunder forward Danilo Gallinari, who led the team with 23 points, was immediately fouled on the inbound pass. Gallinari missed the second free throw with the Thunder leading by three points, but the Pelicans couldn’t corral the rebound and call timeout quickly enough.
There was a review to decide if any time should be added to the clock.
Paul used the break in action to catch up with Pelicans employees at the scorers’ table who were old-timers from his stint in New Orleans. He’s played in the Crescent City many times since he was traded in 2011, but Sunday was his first with the Thunder.
Though the boos for Paul drained out the cheers from the sparse crowd, New Orleans is still a special place for him.
Paul watched from the sideline when LSU played Texas A&M on Saturday night in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. His brother was in the arena Sunday. Paul’s sister-in-law is from New Orleans. Paul said he talks to Brees “all the time.”
“So yeah,” Paul said, “I’m here pretty often.”
And on Sunday, Paul gave the home crowd a throwback performance.