Chris Paul’s clutch performance on Monday night served as a reminder that reality can be quite harsh, as he nearly single-handedly stifled the Knicks’ quest for a 10th consecutive victory with seven straight points in the final minutes to lift Phoenix over New York, 118-110.
Heading into the evening, the Knicks had won nine straight — the team’s longest win streak since 2012-13 — and were the talk of the basketball blogosphere. Optimists believed the Knicks might not lose another game all season, while pessimists penciled this one in as a potential loss because the Suns are the second best team in the entire NBA.
As it would turn out, this one was anyone’s game for the taking, and unfortunately, CP3 is the guy who took it. He didn’t just take it, either. The 16-year veteran ripped out the collective heart of the Knicks, which are run by Paul’s former agent Leon Rose. And he clearly delighted in doing so.
Chris Paul catching up with his former agent Leon Rose pic.twitter.com/Zxl5dct8ln— KNICKS ON MSG (@KnicksMSGN) April 26, 2021
For much of the evening, the Knicks had the upper hand. They started off ablaze, quickly going up by 15, playing with some serious swagger and shooting 70% in the opening quarter, including 4-8 from three. Reggie Bullock nailed three triples in the first and totaled 12 points for the period, and all nine Knicks who played in the game got on the board.
This sequence encapsulates how things have started tonight at The Garden. pic.twitter.com/mSJQTDaGwo— NEW YORK KNICKS (@nyknicks) April 26, 2021
Elfrid Payton was excellent in the quarter, making CP3’s life difficult by guarding him full court while doing a proficient job of probing the paint and putting up 2 points (1-1 from the field), 4 rebounds and 3 assists.
EP with eyes in the back of his head! pic.twitter.com/IvtSLZqify— NEW YORK KNICKS (@nyknicks) April 26, 2021
The Knicks were mostly superb, but Devin Booker had 12 points, the Suns shot nearly 56% from the field, and at the end of the first, New York led by seven. That advantage rose early in the second, thanks in part to Derrick Rose, who once again played like the former MVP he is. Rose had 6 points, 4 rebounds and 5 assists in the second quarter alone, including this pretty pass up court to Obi Toppin for the easy layup.
RJ Barrett and Immanuel Quickley combined for 13 points in the second, but the hot shooting soon cooled off, and the Suns and Knicks each scored 27 points in the quarter.
At halftime, New York’s lead was still seven, meaning the Knicks had failed to put the pedal to the metal. Meanwhile, there was the looming threat of Booker, who added another 8 points in the period to give him 20 at the break.
If you’re wondering why the name Julius Randle hasn’t come up yet, it’s because he didn’t really do much of anything until after halftime, and even then he simply wasn’t as effective as he has been over the course of the season. In the first half, Randle had 5 points, 2 boards, 2 assists and 2 turnovers. In the third, he had 10 points and 4 rebounds, but shot just 3-9 from the field.
In the third, the Suns shot 65% from the field compared to 36% for the Knicks, and by the end of the quarter, Phoenix had tied it at 87. At this point in the night, Booker was clearly making it his life’s work to stop the win streak. He had 30 heading into the fourth (he’d finish with 33 on the night).
If not for Rose, the Suns would likely have pulled away at some point in the second half, but the point guard refused to let the Knicks go quietly into the night. All evening, whenever the Knicks seemed too stagnant to have any hope, there was Rose, razzling and dazzling his way to the hoop, hitting floaters, flying in for layups and draining mid-range jumpers. He had 10 in the fourth and totaled 22 points, 6 rebounds and 6 assists on the night. That number 4 Rose jersey t-shirt is looking mighty fine right about now.
Don't fear, Derrick Rose is here. pic.twitter.com/1uZY7saTKb— NEW YORK KNICKS (@nyknicks) April 27, 2021
Despite Rose’s best efforts, the Suns eventually took their first lead of the game in the fourth and then built that advantage as high as nine, and though the Knicks refused to give in, they struggled to whittle down the deficit. A Randle three did cut it to 113-110 with just over a minute to play, but that’s when CP3 decided the game was his to end. Paul hit three straight shots, including one absolute prayer that the refs should have discounted just because, and just like that, the streak was over.
Whatevs. Gotta hand it to him. Lucky shot. He sucks. Boo!!!
> Always going to be hard to win when Randle and RJ combine to shoot 37% from the field. Randle had 18, 6 and 4 but was so lethargic all night that many Knicks fans may have been wondering whether he was sick, or hungover, or something. Maybe he just had an off night. Barrett had 17 points but shot poorly (7-18). Unlike recent nights, he didn’t have a magical second half in him.
> IQ had an up and down night, finishing with 11 points and 4 assists, including a deliciously deep three.
But he also drew the ire of Tom Thibodeau; at one point, Mike Breen noted that Thibs was upset with Quickley, and then the camera cut to Thibs screaming at the rookie with a tirade that ended with him clearly saying “Jesus Christ.”
Thibs is not happy with Quick pic.twitter.com/HdwTE7ZeZj— The Knicks Wall (@TheKnicksWall) April 27, 2021
> Another shout out to Drose, who had 22 points, 6 rebounds and 6 assists on the night. Him, Thibs and Taj Gibson together again is really something precious that we shouldn’t take for granted.
how it started how it’s going pic.twitter.com/g00IxOyAYx— KNICKS ON MSG (@KnicksMSGN) April 26, 2021
> Obi has been playing pretty well recently. Against the Suns, he had 6 points, 3 rebounds and 1 steal in just under 10 minutes. He’s an uber-athletic lob threat who is still figuring out how to play basketball at the NBA level while acting as an understudy to the team’s All-Star. Give him some more time. He might be something yet.
This one hurt, and not just because various family members and friends were watching the Knicks for the first time all season in order to see if they could stretch the streak to 10, so now you have to explain to them that it’s actually okay to lose a heartbreaker to one of the best teams in basketball, that’s actually yet another sign of progress in a season full of such signs.
Losing to Chris Paul is never fun. Tonight, Glen Sather’s Cigar Case said it rather succinctly: “CP3 god damn.”
The Knicks play next against the Chicago Bulls at MSG on Wednesday. Time to start a new streak.