On Tuesday night, the New Orleans Pelicans were getting baptized by Devin Booker. The Suns’ shooting guard was dapping up babies en route to a 31-point first half. While the Suns offense was boiling hot in the first half, their defense couldn’t slow down the Pelicans’ offense, especially in transition.
Midway through the third quarter, C.J. McCollum threw a pass ahead to Jaxson Hayes as he leaked out in transition. Booker gave chase and, while attempting to make a play from behind Hayes who was lifting off for a one-handed flush, Booker tweaked his hamstring. The timetable for his return is still up in the air, but a hamstring injury is devastating news. They can take weeks to recover from completely, and can flare up at any moment.
The Pelicans aren’t putting the fear of God into the Suns yet, but Booker’s hamstring have Suns faithful praying for a speedy recovery.
If you ever wondered why Chris Paul is so irritable all the damn time, events like Booker’s injury derailing his playoff runs are why. The celestial basketball gods who govern the fates of hoopers may have it out for Suns Christopher Emmanuel Paul.
Why does everyone hate Chris?
For the past year, Phoenix has been the center of the basketball universe, the basketball gods punishing the Suns is on-brand. Pew research polls show that most people believe in determinism, the idea that a higher power determines the course of their lives.
It’s preposterous to think that Booker’s injury changed the outcome of this series. The Suns were stunned, but they’re still the superior team. Besides, the Pelicans seemingly decided that this would be a short playoff run when they did not activate Zion Williamson for his first playoff action.
However, veteran official Scott Foster is a much more active thorn in the Suns’ shoes than Williamson. Foster, who has had a history of handing out Ts to Paul, is essentially CP3’s anti-Chris(t). In his past 14 playoff contests officiated by Foster, the Suns have lost all 14. Whenever Foster steps onto hallowed playoff ground with Paul, a series of plagues follow.
Hamstring injuries are an especially sensitive area for Paul. In 2018, a pulled hamstring kept him out of the final two games of the Western Conference finals against Golden State that the Rockets led 3-2. Houston would go on to lose the series in seven. Paul narrowly dodged a bullet early in the series when he’d tested positive for COVID, but returned in time for Game 3.
Last night, the Pelicans didn’t need Foster, as they rolled to a 125-114 win to even the series 1-1. New Orleans shot 56.7 percent from behind the arc, including six of their seven attempts in the fourth quarter, with their only misses occuring 30 seconds into the period.
Brandon Ingram threw down the gauntlet in the second half, finishing with 37 points, made 100 percent of his 3-point attempts, made 62 percent of his field goals, and dished nine assists in 39 minutes.
In the long run, the severity of Booker’s injury will significantly impact the Suns championship aspirations. The Warriors are in the midst of a Splash renaissance and have a new death lineup. The Grizzlies have gotten back on track and Luke Dončić could be back in the lineup for Dallas if they can survive and advance past Utah.
During Phoenix’s 2021 Finals run, they were the beneficiary of untimely injuries to Anthony Davis, Kawhi Leonard, and Jamal Murray. A 64-18 campaign following their loss in the NBA Finals gave Phoenix an aura of invincibility. Booker established himself as an MVP candidate this season, while Paul led the league in assists per game at age 36.
Despite his apparent immortality, Paul isn’t a point god. His declining athleticism will eventually take a more significant toll on his effectiveness. The 2022 playoffs may be his last chance to win a ring. Fortunately, Booker has emerged as an equal who can help put them over the top. Godspeed to the Suns. They’re going to need all the help they can get.
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