PHOENIX — Chris Paul has waited 16 seasons to finally reach the NBA Finals and finds himself focused on winning a long-sought title while trying his best to enjoy the moment.
The 36-year-old playmaker has sparked the Phoenix Suns to their first NBA Finals since 1993, a best-of-seven showdown that opens Tuesday against visiting Milwaukee.
“Just enjoying the process and all the different moments of it, but ready to go,” Paul said Monday.
“I’m usually on the phone with my kids, seeing what they got going on, and just getting ready, practicing, body work, all that stuff. I’m focused.”
Paul, an 11-time NBA All-Star and two-time Olympic champion, averaged 16.4 points, 8.9 assists, 4.5 rebounds and 1.4 steals a game for the Suns after arriving in a trade from Oklahoma City last November.
It was a virtuoso performance by an NBA maestro whose lack of a title and journeyman status over the past five years aroused plenty of doubters, part of why he writes “Can’t give up now,” on his shoes before every game.
He has found the finals unusual but largely because he can’t watch NBA games on television.
“It’s weird no games being on,” Paul said. “I usually watch games every day, so that’s probably the part that sucks the most. But I would rather be playing than not.
“It’s different… but it’s still basketball. We’re all locked into the goal at hand.”
Phoenix guard Devin Booker is among those who watches games differently and learns more from it thanks to Paul.
“It’s just a whole other level of basketball and film study when you’re with Chris,” Booker said. “He’s always locked in.
“You’re not watching it for entertainment anymore. You’re scouting the whole time you’re watching.”
Booker is watching Paul as well and not seeing any impact from reaching his first NBA Finals.
“I’m sure he might be feeling a different way in this first appearance, but he’s not going to show us no frantic movement or any nervousness,” Booker said.
“He’s prepared for this and it’s more of an ‘I’ve been waiting this long, preparing for this moment right here, and it’s right in front of us.’
“He’s not walking a different way. He’s not talking different way. But there’s an understanding between all of us on what time it is and what we have to accomplish.”
Only one player on either team has played in an NBA Finals before. Phoenix’s Jae Crowder played last year for Miami, which lost to the Los Angeles Lakers. He knows how much Paul hungers for a title after so many years in the league without one.
“I’m happy to be part of it with him to help write his story,” Crowder said. “Chris deserves it. He’s my brother and I’m going to give him everything I’ve got and have his back.
“I think we’re going to get the ring and put up a good fight.”
– ‘This is a blessing’ –
Suns coach Monty Williams is reluctant to compare the reality of the NBA Finals to what he imagined it would be like while he’s still aiming at a higher goal.
“That’s hard. I don’t think you ever want to get there,” Williams said. “As a head coach I don’t have time to do all of that. I’m just focused on the things necessary to get wins. I can’t stop and think about my feelings.
“There’s a level of gratitude to be in this position, but you move on from that and start to strategize and figure out ways to maximize the moment.”
Paul has stressed the times when one can enjoy an accomplishment and when it’s time to focus on another achievement, and that’s the time now.
“Our team knows when to lock in and when we got to enjoy the moment and enjoy ourselves,” Paul said.
“For us it’s balance. You always got to remember, this is a kid’s game we play. This is a blessing and an opportunity to play this game.”
© Agence France-Presse