'Nobody’s surprised about that': Chris Paul has his finest hour with Thunder in epic 26-point rally
Chris Paul splashed a three from the top of the key.
Then after running down a long rebound, he splashed another deep one.
The Peake, slumbering much of Monday night, came alive early in the fourth quarter. A deficit of epic proportions had been erased. A dud of a game had been reversed.
Thanks to CP.
OKC 109, Chicago 106.
On a day we learned there’s increasing likelihood Paul will be in Oklahoma City for the rest of the season, he reminded us and the rest of the basketball world of his splendor. CP had his finest hour as a Thunder.
After stinking it up as the rest of the team did in the first half — he had more turnovers (three) than points (two) — Paul scored 19 points in the fourth quarter. He hit five of the six shots he took, all of them from behind the arc.
Then with 1.3 second left, he hit a couple free throws to give the Thunder its final margin of victory.
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“In the second half, I think he figured out things that they were doing,” Thunder coach Billy Donovan said, “and then, he really did a great job not only finding his spots to go score but certainly making the game easy for everybody else.”
Paul’s final stat line: 30 points, nine rebounds, eight assists.
“That’s Chris,” Thunder guard Terrance Ferguson said. “Man, nobody’s surprised about that.”
But Monday night, he was as good in the second half as he has been in Thunder blue. He was smooth and calculating and marvelous.
Then again, he’s been stellar much of this season.
Seems crazy the market has dried up for this guy, but that appears to be the case. NBA news hound Adrian Wojnarowski reported late Sunday a trade for Paul is unlikely this season.
“There is no belief in Oklahoma City or even in the CP3 camp that there’s going to be a trade for him,” Wojnarowski said.
This isn’t to say Paul won’t be traded. By the time you read these words, he might be playing in another area code. Life comes at you fast in the NBA, so anything is possible.
With the right offer, the Thunder wouldn’t hesitate to send him elsewhere. OKC knows Paul is not part of the franchise’s long-term future. His advanced age and his massive contract prohibit that.
But the Thunder would have to get a big return for him. A great young talent. A bevy of draft picks. Without something like that, OKC is not going to trade him just to move him.
The Thunder, after all, is very much focused on the long term.
The way Paul is playing right now, he’s helping the long term.
While his scoring in the fourth quarter will be what everyone remembers from Monday night, how he played with a bunch of young teammates was important, too. Even as everything was a struggle early — turnovers and breakdowns were rampant in the first half as the Bulls built a 26-point lead — Paul didn’t force things. No raging anger. No hero ball.
That sort of thing is huge for teaching youngsters like Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Terrance Ferguson and Darius Bazley how to play in this league.
How to win, too.
“He’s obviously incredibly smart,” Donovan said. “The thing that’s really impressive to me, if he didn’t say a word … and you were smart enough as a younger player just to watch him, you would understand why he’s the player he is.”
Donovan mentioned Paul’s preparation. Film study. Proper diet. Strict workouts. His teammates see behind the curtain and understand what Paul does before he ever steps on the court.
But then, they see how he plays, too. How he approaches the game. How he studies the opponent in real time. How he attacks what he learns during the game.
That’s what he did Monday.
“What ends up happening with really, really smart, really good players is … he understands the length and time and how long the game is,” Donovan said. “He understands the number of possessions, so even though the game is playing and he is playing, I think guys like him have a mental computer of what’s going on, what’s open, what’s available.
“He’s looking at things and sizing things up and knowing where and when he can get shots off and where and when he can throw passes.”
Paul did just that in the fourth quarter, mixing big shots with huge passes and timely steals.
“Man, it was cool,” he said of the Thunder’s comeback and his role in it. “With our young team, at times you can sort of get down, guys sort of head down, trying to figure out what we’re gonna do.
“But it’s cool to just talk and be able to show ‘em, it’s a long game. It’s never over. As long as we communicate and stay together, we always got a chance.”
Paul didn’t just say it — he showed it.
“He exploded,” Donovan said.
So did The Peake.
Chris Paul may not be wanted by another NBA team just now — seems kooky after what we saw Monday night — but that’s quite all right. Oklahoma City doesn’t seem to mind having him in town.
Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at 405-475-4125 or email@example.com. Like her at facebook.com/JenniCarlsonOK or follow her at twitter.com/jennicarlson_ok.