The ball was still in the hands of Chris Paul for 35 seconds and it took his team a bucket to take the lead in Game 4 of the NBA Finals.
The Phoenix Suns – and the eleven-time All-Star – would not have wanted it any other way.
The point guard did a crossover dribble to rock Milwaukee’s Jrue Holiday. Then he immediately made another attempt to lose Giannis Antetokounmpo.
What happened next wasn’t what the suns or Paul expected. He just … fell. The ball ricocheted off and with it Phoenix’s chances of taking a sovereign lead in the series.
Holiday took possession of the ball and the Bucks turned a 3v1 fast break when Khris Middleton scored a layup. Likewise, Milwaukee had taken control of a behind-the-scenes 109-103 win on Wednesday night that made the final 2-2.
“The sales,” said Suns coach Monty Williams. “Just crushed us.”
Game 5 is on Saturday in Phoenix.
36-year-old Paul – who waited 16 seasons to play in the NBA finals – didn’t shy away from taking the blame.
“It was me, I had five of them,” Paul said of the sales. “It was a bad decision-making. By that time the two of us are back. I’m trying to cross, slip, turn around right there. There were a few bad passes in the first half. They have a lot more shots than we do.” So for me I have to watch out for the ball. “
He wasn’t the only one coughing the basketball when the Suns ended up losing 17 balls. But there is no doubt that the point guard’s five ball losses on Wednesday night, including one at the most important moment of the game, are among the team’s most unexpected.
They were one of the reasons the Suns screwed up a seven-point lead in the fourth quarter and wasted an impressive performance from Booker, who scored 42 points and shot 17 of 28 out of the field.
Paul finished Wednesday with a series low of 10 on 5-of-13 and seven assists, but the real problem was the freebies. The mistakes were part of a disturbing trend: Pauls had 15 sales in his last three games, and that’s about twice as bad as his career rate of 2.4 sales per game.
Even so, his coach is not concerned and said there is nothing physically wrong with Paul.
“He’s fine,” said Williams. “Great players have games like this.”
Paul gave his coach reason to believe in him and overcame significant adversity in these playoffs. A shoulder injury limited Paul in the first round against the Lakers. He missed the first two games of the Western Conference final against the Clippers in the league’s COVID-19 health and safety protocol.
Each time he came back to drive the suns forward. He was brilliant in a four-game sweep of the Denver Nuggets in the second round. He had 41 points against the Clippers in Game 6 to promote the Suns to their first NBA final since 1993.
Now he has to assert himself against the Bucks.
“We know what to do,” Paul said, seeming to be talking more about himself than about the rest of the suns. “Be better.”