Houston • Through thick clouds of confetti, Donovan Mitchell limped over to hug Chris Paul.
The 33-year-old had stomped over the postseason ambitions of the Utah Jazz, scoring a playoff career-best 41 points while tossing out 10 assists. Mitchell said afterward he didn’t want to go home — but he had to pay Paul his dues.
“He’s a great player,” Mitchell said. “He’s gotten a lot of unfair scrutiny throughout the playoffs, and tonight he showed he wanted it.”
Paul, who never before in his 13-year-career has made the conference finals, definitely wanted it. And after the 112-102 victory, he definitely was enjoying it.
Paul wore a wide-brimmed green hat at his postgame press conference, a proper pair with that of his teammate P.J. Tucker. He flashed his million-dollar smile multiple times as Tucker and James Harden recalled the fury with which he took over the third quarter of the game.
Harden said Paul “put us all on his back.” Tucker made it sound as though he was afraid to do anything but climb aboard.
“When he got that look in his eyes, you just know,” Tucker said, laughing. “He said, ‘Give it to me,’ and I said, ‘OK, here you go!’”
Through Games 4 and 5 as Harden struggled, Paul was unstoppable. While he did his work in the midrange game on Sunday night, he extended his shooting past the 3-point line on Tuesday, hitting eight 3-pointers, including the dagger over Royce O’Neale with 35 seconds left.
The Jazz struggled all series with Paul’s ability to penetrate the paint. Although Rudy Gobert had a strong game to limit Clint Capela to five points, Paul adjusted, finding Tucker in the corner several times on his drives, and using screens to fire away from deep.
How good was Paul? He had 20 points in the fourth quarter alone, all wiping out the third-quarter brilliance of Mitchell, who had 22 points in the previous period. But as impressive as the shots he made was the mistakes he didn’t make: Elias Sports Bureau research indicated he’s the only player since the 1977-78 season (when turnovers became a statistic) to record at least 40 points and 10 assists without coughing up the ball once.
But the player known as “Point God” said his experience wasn’t about scoring. Experience the most success he’s ever had in a postseason so far, he’s finding joy over the nerves. After a moment in the third quarter when he chewed out Tucker, he found himself taking a step back, and then telling his teammate everything was good.
Happiness might be the key to enlightenment for Paul — and maybe the key to more success.
“It’s just fun,” he said. “It’s not about the points or anything; it’s about the process.”