Chris Paul: Buried Brilliance Unbound

“I swear, I saw John Stockton create Karl Malone with his hands! With his HANDS!” — Carlos Rojas

I saw New Orleans beat LA, and knew it couldn’t last. The series is a foregone conclusion, so this game is what I’m taking. The playoffs are replete with thrilling memories of losers who staved off the inevitable, if only for two days. Cherish just the title winner, and you’re ignoring the best parts. Had I decided to skip Hornets-Lakers, I would have missed the return of Chris Paul’s life affirming majesty. I would have missed the kind of memory that will, one day, trigger a powerful nostalgia.

I know this because visions of Chris Paul versus the Mavericks launch me back to 2008. An entire day lives on in my mind–the breakfast, the smells, the conversations–because CP3 threw a bounce pass. The pass was thrown on a fast break and it quickly morphed into a dribble. Backspin somehow tricked the ball into going back towards Chris in the opposite direction from which it was thrown. Jason Kidd’s confused body crumbled as a layup happened. My friend did something of an involuntary jig as we replayed the magic on DVR, again and again.

Statistics help Chris Paul because they speak to a seldom-seen brilliance. With New Orleans featured on national TV only twice this season, his numbers are dry, factual dispatches from foreign correspondents. The stats honor CP3′s effectiveness but they can’t imbue you with the feeling of seeing him be effective. We try to capture some of that on HoopSpeak, but to be honest, nobody reads Paul posts. The obscurity he’s mired in is contagious, and from a selfish perspective, best avoided. If you’re reading right now, God bless you, because I certainly didn’t count on it.

Yesterday was a chance for a wider audience to appreciate how a man can elevate mediocrity. I sure as hell hope they did. Also, Paul didn’t elevate his meager surrounding talent so much as he turned them into extensions of his genius. The ball was thrown with such precision, such velocity, that receiving hands were implored to convert layups. Field goals were reflexes, Hornets were scoring before neurons had alerted them to having caught a pass. Chris Paul was moving time and space with his fingers.

He applied every aspect of his form to the game. When Fisher tried to sneak behind Paul’s behind, Chris would jut his butt into the shape of shield. When Gasol switched onto Paul, little Chris would crest jumpers over the giant. The ball was always a shade above Pau’s hands, as though magnets were preventing the Spainiard from ever touching it.

And there was the assist that altered Aaron Gray’s fingerprints. CP3 caught a pass, one-handed, five feet above the arc. In the time he took to catch it, he was hurling it between a diamond shape of four defenders. The force of the throw seemed to propel Gray through a foul and towards a finish. On two replays, the camera men were too slow for the pass.

What Chris Paul did on Sunday, was a feat no other point guard could graze–not with that roster. He strolled up to a gunfight and fired bullets from a spoon. Maybe it speaks to twisted priorities, but I’ll remember yesterday until death or dementia.

Follow @SherwoodStrauss

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