Before Chris Paul handed the game ball to head coach Monty Williams following the Phoenix Suns' series-clinching Game 6 win over the Los Angeles Lakers in the opening round, he had a message for his coach and his teammates.
"10 years ago, dog, I played for Mont, right? 2-7 series, Mont. Coach, we lost. 4-2, right? Right back where we was. Against the same team!" With Paul placing a little extra emphasis on "same team."
It was a special moment for a player and coach, with things coming full circle after the same franchise eliminated them during their first - and only - run with the New Orleans Hornets 10 years prior.
Even though no player or coach from the Lakers' 2011 victory remained, the series was clearly still on Paul's mind. How could it not be? Aside from the obvious player-coach connection, it's no secret that Paul is the ultimate competitor, playing in the gruelling Western Conference Playoffs for the 13th time in his 16-year career.
It must mean a little more to eliminate a team that got the best of you the only other time you met. And it's becoming a theme for Paul in these playoffs.
Two years prior to facing the defending champion Lakers in 2011, Paul and the Hornets, who were led by Byron Scott at the time, entered the 2009 postseason as the West's No. 7 seed. New Orleans, which was just a year removed from a magical postseason run, earned a date with a second-seeded Denver Nuggets team that featured Carmelo Anthony, Chauncey Billups, Dahntay Jones and J.R. Smith among others.
It was a memorable series, but not in a good way for New Orleans.
Denver, which would go on to advance to the Western Conference Finals that year, eliminated New Orleans in five games, with the Hornets' one win fuelled by a 32-point, 12-assist performance by Paul in Game 3.
The other four games? Nothing short of dominant, with the Nuggets earning four wins by an average margin of 30.8 points, including a 121-63 win in Game 4. That 58-point margin of victory is tied for the largest win in the history of the NBA Playoffs.
As ugly as the final score was, the game itself may have been uglier. Trust me, I was there.
12 years later, a 36-year-old Paul and the Suns swept the Nuggets, punctuated by his 37-point, seven assist performance in the series clincher. Ball Arena (formerly known as the Pepsi Center) was transformed into Phoenix Suns Arena by the series' end, with a sea of purple and orange cheering loudly and proudly.
If there's any way to exact revenge for the most lopsided defeat in postseason history, it's with a demoralizing series sweep. These Suns earned their four wins by an average margin of 15.8 points - the figure isn't quite as dominant as 30.8, but they also didn't let the Nuggets get a win.
As Paul and the Suns returned to a warm reception at the Phoenix airport, the 11-time All-Star told fans "eight more!" as Phoenix is just eight wins away from the first NBA title in the franchise's long history.
Up next? Either the LA Clippers or Utah Jazz, meaning the tour continues for Paul.
In 2017, Paul was a member of a Clippers team that suffered a Game 7 loss to the Jazz at home. One year later, Paul was a member of a Houston Rockets team that eliminated Utah in five games in the Western Conference Semifinals.
In 2019, Paul and the Rockets again did away with the Jazz in five games, only this time it came in the first round.
If it's Utah that advances to the Western Conference Finals, CP3 would have a chance to eliminate the franchise for the third time in four years since losing to the Jazz in the opening round of the 2017 NBA Playoffs.
On the other hand, it doesn't take too much digging to know that a Western Conference Finals meeting with the Clippers would present Paul with an opportunity to eliminate the franchise with which he spent six seasons of his career. The end wasn't necessarily unceremonious, but there's no doubt that his history with the franchise would become an underlying storyline.
A closer look at the Clippers reveals that the coaching staff features Chauncey Billups and Dahntay Jones, two members of that same Nuggets team that eliminated the Hornets in 2009.
I'm not saying that series defeat will be at the forefront of Paul's mind while he looks to advance to the NBA Finals for the first time in his career, but as fierce of a competitor as he is, I'm not saying he's forgotten about it, either.
Regardless of who Phoenix moves on to face in the Western Conference Finals, Paul's journey this postseason has been nothing short of poetic.
With his first-ever trip to the NBA Finals on the line, we'll see what Paul has in store next.
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