Welcome to "One Play!" Throughout the 2020-21 NBA season, our NBA.com Staff will break down certain possessions from certain games and peel back the curtains to reveal its bigger meaning.
Today, Phoenix Suns guard Chris Paul takes the spotlight.
Context: Well, Chris Paul sure looks healthy.
After a shoulder injury limited him in Phoenix's first-round win over the Los Angeles Lakers, Paul has been firing on all cylinders against the Denver Nuggets in the second round.
In Game 1, Paul led the Suns to victory with 21 points and 11 assists, marking his first double-double of these playoffs. In Game 2, he finished with a historic 17 points and 15 assists. And in Game 3, he scored 27 points while dishing out a team-high eight assists.
Paul did the bulk of his damage in the second half of Game 3 in an all too familiar way.
You know what that means - to the film room!
Breakdown: Paul brings the ball up the court for the Suns following an offensive foul by Aaron Gordon.
Sharing the court with Paul are Devin Booker, Mikal Bridges, Jae Crowder and Deandre Ayton. Bridges and Crowder space the floor by spotting up in opposite corners, Ayton parks himself around the free throw line and Booker sets a screen for Paul at the top of the 3-point line.
The Nuggets decide to switch instead of having Austin Rivers fight through Booker's screen, resulting in Gordon picking up Paul.
Paul doesn't look to attack Gordon immediately. Instead, he patiently waits for Ayton to set a second screen for him, this one several feet beyond the 3-point line.
Ayton looks like he's going to set a screen on Gordon's left side...
...but he flips it at the last second, which helps Paul get downhill.
Paul snakes the pick-and-roll, meaning he changes direction immediately after using Ayton's screen, and surveys the floor when he approaches the free throw line.
With Facundo Campazzo shading towards Crowder in the corner, Nikola Jokic dropping to the restricted area to protect the rim and Gordon still trailing the play, Paul calmly pulls up around the elbow for a shot he can make in his sleep.
Why it matters: Beyond the obvious - the Suns are now one win away from the Western Conference Finals - a couple of reasons.
First, Paul has been lights out from midrange this season. According to NBA.com, he made a total of 197 shots from midrange, which put him ahead of New York Knicks forward Julius Randle (171) by a decent margin to lead the league. Not only that, but Paul converted those midrangers at a 51.6 percent clip. Of players who attempted at least 100 shots from midrange, only Kyrie Irving (54.4 percent) and Bryn Forbes (51.9 percent) made them at a higher clip.
The Nuggets learned the hard way that Paul is automatic from midrange in Game 3. With them falling to a drop coverage, the Suns basically spammed Paul-Ayton pick-and-rolls in the second half to extend their lead.
Seriously, they went to it over...
...and over again.
"He knows best when we need shots like that to be knocked down," Ayton said of Paul after the game. "The coverages change late in the stretch where the roll isn't available, the corner 3s ain't available, it just gotta guard mano-e-mano and let's go to the pick-and-roll."
Paul generated a few of his assists in those situations as well.
If Paul wasn't getting a high percentage shot, someone else on the Suns was. He was in complete control.
Second, Paul has been ridiculous in the fourth quarter of this series.
In scoring eight points on 3-for-4 shooting from the field in the fourth quarter of Game 3, his numbers now stand at...
Chris Paul's fourth quarter stats in this series: 30 points, 12-of-13 FG, 4-of-4 from 3, eight assists, zero turnovers, +20 in three games.- Anthony Slater (@anthonyVslater) June 12, 2021
Last but not least, the Nuggets aren't the only team still in the playoffs who could have a hard time keeping up with Paul in the pick-and-roll.
The Suns still have to win one more game to advance to the Western Conference Finals and it remains to be seen who their opponent would be, but Paul's midrange prowess sure would come in handy in a series against the Utah Jazz, who gave up the third-most midrange shots in the league this season. Three-time Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert obviously stands a much better chance of making life difficult for Paul in the pick-and-roll than Jokic does, but he (and Booker for that matter) will test him in ways no other team in the Western Conference can.
It's still too soon to be thinking about the next round, but Paul getting back to his Point God ways is a scary sign for the rest of the league.
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