Yesterday's performance by Chris Paul was simply sublime. It was Chris Paul at his absolute best: passing like he has 4 sets of eyes, scoring at will, racking up steals, out rebounding 7 footers and running the show in masterful fashion. It was the kind of performance Hornets fans were practically used to between 2007-2009, but even better. It begs the question, did Chris Paul just turn in his best game ever? Considering the stakes of yesterday's game, and the overall context (no David West, a rollercoaster season, etc.), it is certainly arguable. That said, this post isn't going to be about ranking performances (although feel free to do so in the comments if you'd like), I just want to use yesterday's game as a jumping off point to talk about a few of Chris Paul's past great performances.
December 7, 2007. Memphis @ New Orleans.
The Statline: 43 Points. 9 Assists. 5 Rebounds. 4 Steals. 3 Turnovers. 15 - 27 from the field. 5 - 7 from three-point range. 8 - 9 from the free throw line.
In one of the Hornets' many closely contested games against Memphis over the years, Chris Paul scored what still stands as his career high in points, scored the game winning layup, and repeatedly punished the Grizzlies for leaving him open behind the three-point arc. After the game Paul had this to say:
"I try to tell people I can shoot a little bit if you let me, if I'm open... A lot of teams let me shoot 3s, so if you look at the stats and think I can't shoot, then that's on you."
This is a mistake that, surprisingly, some teams still make; granted it's certainly not as common as it once was. Still, only in his rookie year was Paul a subpar three-point shooter. Every season since Paul has shot at least 35%, and the past two seasons he's shot a combined 39.7% from three. His shooting was particularly valuable in this game as Peja Stojakovic and Morris Peterson left the game with injuries. Additionally, Rudy Gay and Paul Gasol turned in monster performances on the offensive end. Thankfully for the Hornets, it wasn't enough to counteract Paul's brilliance.
Highlights (I love the disbelief of the announcers):
April 19, 2008, April 22, 2008 and April 29, 2008. Dallas @ New Orleans.
The Statline (Apr. 19): 35 Points. 10 Assists. 5 Rebounds. 4 Steals. 1 Block. 1 Turnover. 15 - 23 from the field. 0 -1 from three-point range. 5 - 7 from the free throw line.
The Statline (Apr. 22): 32 Points. 17 Assists. 5 Rebounds. 3 Steals. 3 Turnovers. 10 - 16 from the field. 0 -2 from three-point range. 12 - 14 from the free throw line.
The Statline (Apr. 29): 24 Points. 15 Assists. 11 Rebounds. 2 Steals. 0 Turnovers. 10 - 19 from the field. 2 - 3 from three-point range. 2 - 4 from the free throw line.
This playoff series was Paul's coming out party. Paul was already a star, but after this series the level of fame and respect received by Paul shot to new heights. And rightfully so, it was the playoffs after all. Paul was simply incredible. He took advantage of Jason Kidd's inability to keep up with his speed and destroyed the Mavericks in every way possible. Not only could Kidd and the Mavs do nothing to stop Paul from scoring, they had no answer for Paul's ability to find Chandler for alley oop lobs or Peja for open threes. The final game epitomized Paul's series as a whole. Paul had his hands in everything and finished with a triple double. The Hornets beat the Mavs fairly easily and it was on to the Spurs. For most everyone except for stubborn Jazz fans, Paul had cemented himself as the best point guard on the planet.
May 8, 2008. New Orleans @ San Antonio.
The Statline: 35 Points. 9 Assists. 2 Rebounds. 1 Steal. 1 Turnover. 15 - 25 from the field. 0 - 2 from three-point range. 3 - 6 from the free throw line.
Unfortunately, the Hornets lost the game, but I have to include it anyway. The main reason this game sticks out in my mind is that I always remember Tony Parker with a look of puzzlement, frustration and even a bit of amusement on his face. "What can I possibly do to guard this guy?" he seemed to be thinking. Yet Parker was anything but puzzled on offense, and he went toe to toe with Paul by scoring 31 points and dishing out 11 assists. The end result was frustrating for Hornets fans, but the duel between Chris Paul and Tony Parker was a beautiful thing to watch for anyone who loves basketball.
January 6, 2009. New Orleans @ Los Angeles.
The Statline: 32 Points. 15 Assists. 3 Rebounds. 3 Steals. 0 Turnovers. 11 - 24 from the field. 1 - 3 from three-point range. 9 - 9 from the free throw line.
The Lakers had thoroughly dominated the Hornets in the first two meetings of the 2008-2009 season (a bit of a rollercoaster season itself, though not on the level of the current season in that respect), which is why this win felt so good. Chris Paul had played well in the previous two losses, but he topped those games here and did what he does best: orchestrated an impressive team performance while also scoring prolifically himself. This also ranks as one the best ever combined performances by Chris Paul and David West together, as West had a 40 point/11 rebound game. This game was a prime example of how devestatingly effective the Paul & West combo can be. The fact that it occured against the Lakers on the road despite a 39 performance by Kobe Bryant was icing on the cake.
January 26, 2009. Philadelphia @ New Orleans.
The Statline: 27 Points. 15 Assists. 10 Rebounds. 7 Steals. 1 Block. 4 Turnovers. 7 - 13 from the field. 1 - 3 from three-point range. 12 - 12 from the free throw line.
This was one of those performances that leaves you at a loss for words. It ended up being one of Chris Paul's six triple-double performances during the 2008-2009 season, and Paul was just three steals away from the ultra rare quadruple-double. The Hornets beat Philly fairly comfortably behind Paul's statistical explosion and hyper efficient scoring.
Paul, with his usual off the court humbleness, played down the stats and joked about being close to a quintiple-double because of too many turnovers:
"A couple more turnovers and I would have had whatever you call five," Paul said.
That speaks to one of the main aspects of Paul's personality that has endeared him to fans. On the court, he's absolutely ruthless. He'll toe the line between physicality and dirty play, he'll flop, he'll do whatever is necessary. Off the court? Humble, gracious, self-effacing, loyal... forever giving other players credit. Whether he remains a Hornet past 2012 or not (and I truly hope he does), I'll always remember Paul fondly.
In the interest of brevity, I'll stop here. There are of course many more games that qualify among Paul's best, but I'll leave it to you readers to bring up your own favorite games or memories. After Wednesday night, it's possible we'll have yet another game to add to the list. Go Hornets.