Culture / Sporting Life

An Angry Chris Paul Gives Stephen Curry Plenty to Think About

All-Star Game Snub Only Adds to Simmering Fury, Potential Playoff Feud

BY // 01.23.18

Chris Paul is getting grumpy — and the Houston Rockets are thriving because of it. Paul, the head of the NBA Players Association, does not want to share if he pushed to make sure the NBA All-Star draft wasn’t televised. He’s sneaking through secret corridors of the Staples Center, conducting high-level “peacekeeping” missions. He seems annoyed that Stephen Curry has apparently permanently stolen his spot as a Western Conference All-Star starter — or at least, he plays like he is every time he faces Curry.

In short, Paul is as intimidating as a livid J.K. Simmons at the moment. Getting snubbed completely from this year’s L.A. All-Star party (17 missed games apparently nonsensically overrode the Rockets’ 23-5 record when Paul does play, his streak of nine straight All-Star appearances before last season’s hand injury and his standing as one of the most well known players in the league) will surely only add to the simmering fury.

Good. An angry Chris Paul is something to rejoice in.

The Rockets have moved within two games in the loss column of the Golden State Warriors heading into tonight’s action. That’s no coincidence. The difference between the Rockets of James Harden and the Rockets of Chris Paul is that Paul will not let this team doze in and out of alertness.

He’ll also grab the biggest games when needed.

This is what happened on Saturday night, in the most charged Toyota Center atmosphere you’ll see before the playoffs. With Rockets legend Calvin Murphy wearing a sparkling purple tuxedo coat that would have blinded even the most fearless prom goer, Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott sitting courtside next to billionaire Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta and former University of Texas quarterback Vince Young missing the First Shot free throw so completely that it almost made one wonder if he’d ever played sports before, Paul seized the stage.

His ridiculous 33 point, 11 rebound, seven assist line isn’t the only reason the Rockets beat the Warriors to take the regular season series 2-1. But it’s the main one. Maybe, even more importantly, it also removed the questions over whether a 32-year-old point guard could still will his team to victory in the more pressurized of games.

After Paul failed to push the Clippers past a flawed Utah Jazz in a seventh game on his home floor last spring those questions rang legitimate.

This Houston Chis Paul looks like a reenergized Paul, though.

When I sat down with Paul for an exclusive one-on-one interview at Saks Fifth Avenue, he could not stop talking about how tight the Rockets players were, how much they did together — and how much that means to him. (Truth: If you talk to Paul one-on-one, he never really comes across as angry — or anything but thoughtful).

“All in all, it’s been great,” Paul says of his transition to Houston. “I love it. Our team is really, really close.”

Of course, that’s a sharp contrast to how things were with the Clippers. In his ESPN documentary, Paul complained to Jay-Z about how the Clippers players never wanted to hang out together off the court, which is completely different from what he experienced early in his career in New Orleans.

Now, in Houston, Paul seems to have that back.

Chris Paul, the Gift Giver

Paul is known for giving his teammates gifts throughout the season — and he is clearly touched that a ton of Rockets actually take one of his gifts (the travel bags from his Hook & Albert collection) on the road with them regularly.

Paul arranged to have the bags waiting at every Rocket’s locker after one early training camp practice. This is a guy who puts some thought into his gift giving.

“You never really know if guys are going to use what you give them or not,” Paul tells PaperCity.  “But they have them on the plane, they’re into them. That means something.”

Even Point Gods are human. Chris Paul wants to be appreciated. Everyone does.

The rest of the Rockets seem to know what they have in Paul. Maybe, it’s just coincidence, but Houston is also certainly playing much better defense against Curry since Paul joined on. Even when Paul is not matched up one-on-one on Curry. Harden even pressured Curry into a few misses in the Saturday night showcase.

The NBA’s deadliest shooter missed 24 of 38 shots in Golden State’s two regular season losses to the Rockets.

Stephen Curry took time out from shocking the NBA to spend time with the Houston Astros’ newest superstar.

Golden State still looms as the prohibitive title favorite, but Paul’s definitely given Curry something to think about. That’s no small accomplishment for a regular season that once loomed as a potential Warriors runaway. No one is lapping these Rockets. They’re very much in the game.

Two nights after slaying the Warriors, the Rockets slog out a home win over the Miami Heat, making sure they don’t lose any ground when the NBA spotlight’s elsewhere. Let LeBron and the Cavaliers, Jason Kidd and the Bucks, and Damian Lillard and the Trailblazers dominate the drama for a while. That’s the mark of a mature team — a Chris Paul team.

Sure, the Rockets home arena still had a huge amount of kids in Curry shirts for the last meeting of the regular season between the two best teams in the West. One kid in a Curry T-shirt even sat in the first row — and Steph said something to him after draining one of the six shots he actually hit on the night. But there were still many more boos for the Warriors than the league’s marquee team usually receives in pregame intros.

The Warriors are the NBA’s most beloved traveling road show, but even they seemed to sense the difference. They even came out in their all-black warmups.

Of course, no one ever needs to remind Chris Paul who the villains are. He’s got that. He’ll be angry when he needs to be. There are no worries about that.

Curry and Klay Thompson and even Lillard are all All-Stars and he’s not. Despite the Rockets being the second best team in the entire league. OK. Yes, Chris Paul likely will remember this too.

Scowl and rejoice in it.

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