If Chris Paul was nervous about playing in the playoffs for the first time in his young career, he didn't show it. Paul was again sensational last night as he had 24 points, 11 rebounds and 15 assists & the New Orleans Hornets defeated the Dallas Mavericks 99-94 & sent the Mavericks to an early summer by eliminating them from the playoffs, 4 games to 1.
Paul has maturity well beyond his 22 years. His calmness and ability to make the right play at the right time is uncanny. No point guard in the league has such control, not just over his team, but over the entire game. He's listed at a stocky 175lb, 6 feet tall from head to toe, but to see his influence on the game, you would think he was cut from the same mould as Dwight Howard.
New Orleans were never seriously threatened in this series. Dallas grabbed a token win in game 3, but that aside, the Hornets picked apart a Mavericks team that looks certain for big changes in the offseason. Owner Mark Cuban's gamble in giving up the young, speedy Devin Harris for Jason Kidd's old legs just before the trade deadline looked a risky move then and looks even worse now. Harris was exactly the type of player the Mavericks missed in this series. His pace and long arms might not have slowed Paul, but certainly he could have at least kept up with him. Paul simply abused whoever the Mavericks threw at him.
New Orleans now face the San Antonio Spurs. We all knew that the Spurs were going to beat the Phoenix Suns, but few thought that it was only going to take them 5 games, especially after the double overtime thriller in game 1.
Phoenix now head to an offseason of uncertainty. The window of opportunity that the Suns had to win a championship has now been slammed shut. Steve Nash has achieved alot in this league, but he's 34 years old now and when you consider the plethora of quality point guards in the game, it's hard to see him getting any better or quicker than he has been already. In the Western conference alone, he would now sit comfortably behind Chris Paul, Tony Parker and Deron Williams, if he didn't already.
I wonder if Suns GM Steve Kerr still thinks that giving up Shawn Marion for Shaq was now such a good idea afterall. Marion will earn around $17.8m next year and despite whether or not Kerr thinks he's worth that much, his contract is a touch more attractive than Shaq's two years and $40m, to which the Suns still owe him. I doubt any other GM will be as generous as Kerr was in bailing out Pat Riley this season.....maybe Isiah Thomas would if he still had a job.
For the San Antonio Spurs though, it was business as usual. Typically, they didn't demolish Phoenix in this series, they just did what they had to do & always do...make the big play at the right time and finish the game in front. Case in point, Phoenix led big in both game 1(16 points) & game 2(14 points) before the Spurs came back to win each time.
The match up now between New Orleans and San Antonio promises to be a classic. A battle of Old & Familiar vs New & Exciting.
The Hornets are young and hungry & led by a legitimate MVP candidate in Chris Paul. They have a 2nd all-star in the lineup in David West and a former all-star, rejuvenated this season after a couple of years of injuries, but who can still shoot the ball as well as ever in Peja Stojakovic.
The Spurs though are the battle proven veterans, seemingly never overawed by the occasion and led by Manu Ginobili and last year's finals MVP, Tony Parker. Oh and Tim Duncan is still as effective as ever.
It's always tougher to win in the playoffs than it is during the regular season. The hoop seems to be just a little smaller, the ball bounces a little differently and every basket could be the decisive one. Player's & coach's face the ultimate test. New Orleans breezed through their first exam with flying colours, but now they face probably the toughest playoff opponent in the league. The season series was split 2-2, with each team picking up a win on the other's home court.
While New Orleans has home court advantage in this series, I think that San Antonio will still start as favourite to win. But, I believe in Chris Paul and I also believe New Orleans are ready to send a message around the league that they are for real.....the Hornets to win in 6 games.