NBA Hall of Famer Isiah Thomas said Chris Paul showed all his leadership qualities as the Oklahoma City Thunder scored an overtime road win over the Brooklyn Nets.
Paul scored 20 of his 28 points in the fourth quarter and overtime to lead the Thunder to a 111-103 victory at Barclays Center.
He kept dribbling through traffic, always trying to get to that old familiar spot from where he has punished opponents for 15 years.
Every time he did, one of his team-mates had the same thought.
“It’s a bucket,” Thunder reserve Abdel Nader said. “He has been doing it all year, especially at the end of games.”
The game was tied at 103 before Paul made consecutive mid-range jumpers, the shot he repeatedly knocked down in the fourth quarter. The Nets never scored again. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander closed out the scoring with four free throws, after making a jumper to open OT.
Speaking on NBA TV’s Center Court, Thomas said of Paul: “He just found a way to step up and get his team another victory out the road. We’ve talked about his professionalism, how he shows up and plays. He is mentoring and he is leading out on the floor. Tonight was a great road win and his leadership was on display.”
Thomas’ fellow analyst Grant Hill agreed with Thomas and said Paul is reaping the benefits of once again being in an “underdog” situation, an environment he revelled in as a member of the New Orleans Pelicans 10 years ago.
“Think back over the last 10 years Chris Paul has been playing. The last two years in Houston, it was James Harden’s team. There was a lot of bickering [when Paul was with the Clippers] in LA. They could never quite get on the same page,” said Hill.
You have to go back to New Orleans where Chris was the team’s alpha male and was having fun. It wasn’t about competing with team-mates, it was about ‘lets share the basketball’.
“[Now in Oklahoma City] in crunch time, down the stretch, he gets the ball, he makes plays and everyone is comfortable with it. He hasn’t been in this type of environment in almost 10 years since he played in New Orleans.”
The win leaves the Thunder at 21-16, good enough for seventh spot in the West with a five-and-a-game cushion to the ninth-placed Memphis Grizzlies. Center Court panellist Candace Parker said the Thunder’s trio of guards – Paul, Gilgeous-Alexander and Dennis Schroder – has been vital to the team’s success this season.
“CP3 has already said it,” she said. “When [a team] keys in on one of them, the others go off. You have three players who can create a shot for themselves or create one for their team-mates.
“[Paul] being the alpha dog in [the Thunder] organisation has been huge for him as well as his team-mates. You have a willing listener in Gilgeous-Alexander and Schroder willing play a back-up role when he would start on a lot of other teams.
“It’s so important to have an additional guard who can close games out. It is fun watching that trio play on the perimeter.”
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