Chris Paul gutted through a right shoulder contusion to help the Phoenix Suns close out the Los Angeles Lakers 99-90 in Game 1 of their NBA playoffs first-round series Sunday.
“I talked to him briefly just now and his words to me was he was OK and he would be OK moving forward,” Suns head coach Monty Williams said after the game. “He was pretty sore when he came back, but him playing today gave us a lot of juice, a lot of energy. It was inspirational to watch him out there, give it his all on both sides of the floor.”
Paul said he “absolutely” will be ready for Game 2 on Tuesday.
He suffered the injury with nine minutes, 24 seconds remaining in the first half when LeBron James leaped over him for a putback layup. Paul swiped for the ball with his right arm, losing his balance. As his momentum took him toward the floor, the point guard’s head knocked against the right arm of teammate Cameron Johnson.
“I just remember I felt ‘Uhh!’ I heard like a crack, or whatever,” Paul said, describing the impact.
Paul immediately writhed on the floor in pain as members of both the Suns and Lakers surrounded him after Phoenix called timeout.
He was helped up to his feet by James and members of the Suns’ medical staff. James — friends with Paul since high school — gave the guard a hug before Paul retreated to the locker room for observation.
“When you saw both teams hovering around him and making sure he was OK, that was the big part about it that really warmed everybody’s heart that was on the floor, really,” said the Suns’ Deandre Ayton. “Although we were competing, trying to kill one another to get a win, at the end of the day, it’s bigger than basketball.”
Paul returned to the bench a short time later and was met with a roar from the home crowd. He checked back into the game at the 5:32 mark of the second quarter.
The Suns point guard looked limited by the injury but still left his mark by hitting a clutch jumper to end a Lakers run midway through the fourth quarter.
“Any time a guy lays it on the line physically like that after taking that kind of hit, it gives you juice,” Williams said. “Then you think about every experience Chris has had, how many games he’s played, everything he has accomplished. Nobody would’ve faulted him for not coming back, but when he did come back, we saw the emotion on his face and I thought that drove our guys. I got emotional just watching him battle tonight.”
Paul said he thought of a four-minute inspirational video featuring Lakers great Kobe Bryant that he watched before the game immediately after the contusion happened.
“In the thing Kobe says, like, ‘Injuries, sometimes you just can’t control them,'” Paul said. “So, that was all that was going through my mind after the play I got hit.”
Paul finished with seven points on 3-for-8 shooting and eight assists in 36 minutes. The eight field goal attempts were tied for the second fewest he has attempted in a playoff game in his career, according to research by ESPN Stats & Information (he went 2-for-7 vs. Denver on April 27, 2009).
James and Paul were involved in another brow-raising play early on in the fourth quarter when James, jumping to try to rebound his own missed free throw, had his left arm yanked down by Paul, who was positioned underneath him.
After the whistle, the Suns’ Cameron Payne collided with the Lakers’ Alex Caruso, pushing him to the floor. Caruso got up to shove Payne, and the Suns guard responded by throwing the ball at Caruso’s legs. L.A.’s Montrezl Harrell then charged at Payne to get between him and Caruso.
Upon an official’s review, Paul was called for a common foul, Payne received two technical fouls and was ejected, and Caruso and Harrell were each assessed a tech.
“My view was an overly aggressive boxout, a dangerous play where LeBron was in the air and got undercut,” said Lakers coach Frank Vogel.
When James was asked how his shoulder was feeling and whether he too would characterize the play as dangerous, he kept his focus on the future. “I’ll be ready for Game 2,” James said.