Traditionally, people are supposed to receive presents on their birthday. It is a tradition that dates to the Romans–for men at least. But some traditions are meant to be broken. Chris Paul did just that on Friday when the 12-time All-Star turned 37.
In Game 3 of the Western Conference Semifinals series between the Phoenix Suns and Dallas Mavericks, the Suns’ guard gifted the Mavericks turnover after turnover. When the final buzzer sounded, Paul had seven turnovers. They helped change the course of the game and led to a 103-94 Dallas win.
“If I don’t turn the ball over like that, I feel like it’s a different game, so give them a lot of credit,” Paul said. “They came out and did what they were supposed to do.”
The seven turnovers tied the most Paul has had all season. The Utah Jazz, whom Dallas knocked off in the first round, forced him to turn it over seven times on January 24. This was the first time during the postseason that he’s had more than three.
The Mavericks made a concerted effort to be active in the passing lanes, causing deflections and getting 12 steals–a playoff high. While the Mavericks made defensive adjustments to their shell coverage and made a team effort to pressure Paul, two players made it extremely difficult for him.
“I think we did a great job tonight,” Luka Doncic said. “We have Reggie and Doe Doe. Those guys were incredible all year on the defensive end, and that showed today once again that they’re doing an amazing job. They are our leaders on defense. We go as they go on defense, and they have been amazing all year.”
Reggie Bullock and Dorian Finney-Smith drew split coverage on Paul and Devin Booker, who Dallas also held in check. It was a marked change from Game 1 and 2. In the first two games, Bullock only guarded Paul for a total of 6:40, per NBA.com, forcing only two turnovers.
“We were being more active, playing with our hands, and getting into the passing lanes,” Finney-Smith said. “Reggie did a great job tonight–and our bigs–following the scouting report and executing what coach has been talking about.”
In Game 3, Bullock matched up with Paul regularly, using his 6-foot-6 frame to harry the 6-foot guard. It worked. Paul was out of sorts and clearly frustrated. Bullock’s defense helped limit Phoenix’s offense and allowed Dallas to get out in transition.
“It’s tough,” Paul said. “It’s tough because you’re putting them out of transition. With a team like that, you start letting other guys get going. You see Jalen [Brunson] had a big game [with] 28. I think if we take care of the ball, we get more shots at the basket. That’s on me. We didn’t get but 76 shots and they got 90. That’s a huge difference.”
In total, the Suns had 17 turnovers leading to 22 Mavericks points. Defense created offense for Dallas all night. It’s something the team did repeatedly during the regular season and in the first round of the playoffs. It hadn’t translated in this series until Game 3, a game the Mavericks desperately needed to win.
Chris Paul was generous enough to invite the Mavericks to his birthday. He probably didn’t think he would be the one giving out presents, though. It’s likely that Dallas’ invitation gets lost in the mail next year.
“Happy birthday,” Mavericks head coach Jason Kidd said. “I think when you look at it, we were active. Our hands were active, we got deflections that led to steals. We came out aggressive. There was carryover from Game 2 in those first three quarters and we played 48 minutes tonight. It’s a great win but now this game is over. It’s a quick turnaround here for Sunday.”
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