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Breakdown: How Chris Paul Dominates A Game

In a February win over Minnesota, Chris Paul took over with James Harden on the bench

April 13, 2018 - 4:15 pm

By: Adam Spolane (@AdamSpolane)

When the first quarter ended February 23 at Toyota Center, the Rockets trailed the Minnesota Timberwolves 32-26. While James Harden kept the Rockets afloat by scoring half their points, he had played all 12 minutes, so for around half of the second quarter he’d be sitting in a chair watching. With the Rockets already trailing this would’ve been a recipe for disaster most years, but this isn't most years.

When the second quarter started and with Harden on the bench, Chris Paul re-entered the game and led a 15-4 run with a second until that was missing Eric Gordon. For almost seven minutes, he carried the Rockets offense, but did so in many different ways.

On the Rockets first possession of the period, Paul anticipates a double team, and gets rid of the ball quickly to Ryan Anderson. Even though Anderson passes up the shot, Paul’s quick decision-making has Minnesota’s defense scrambling, leading to a couple of free throw attempts.

This time, it’s just a basic high screen and roll, but Paul catches Nemanja Bjelica just one small step in no-man’s land, freeing up Gerald Green just enough enough to take advantage of a hard close-out.

Paul has a reputation for playing a slow, methodical style, but really, he’s just patient. If he sees something early in the shot clock you better believe he’s going to take advantage. On this play, he attacks the Wolves defense after a dead-ball turnover. This isn’t the type of shot the Rockets are normally looking for, but Paul shot 54 percent on midrange jumpers this season, and he’s one of the best mid-range shooters in the NBA today.

Back in November, I asked P.J. Tucker if he’s ever felt there’s been a moment where he’s seen Paul panic. “Never, never,” he said to me, and the following play demonstrates that perfectly.

Shot clock is running down, and he’s trapped near the corner. Most players are going to turn the ball over in that situation, and while Tucker missed that shot, the Rockets rebounded the miss, allowing Paul a second opportunity to setup a teammate.

While all five of these clips are different, each has one thing in common: Paul is initiating the offense. Among one of the questions about the Paul/Harden partnership was would Paul be able to impact the game without the ball? On this play, even with Harden on the bench, Paul proves that he can make things happen off the ball:

In his first five seasons with the Rockets, very few had to carry the type of burden for their team the way Harden did, but this season, life has been much easier for the likely MVP. He avereaged 35.4 minutes per game, his fewest as a Rocket, and it's should be no surprise that when Harden and Paul have shared the floor the Rockets are +13.6 per 100 possessions, but with Harden on the bench and Paul on the floor, the Rockets have more than survived, outscoring teams by 12.1 points per 100 possessions.

Despite their best player playing in the least amount of minutes in the least amount of games in his career with the team, the Rockets finished with their best regular season record in franchise history. Harden is still asked to do a lot, but with the addition of Paul, he doesn't have to do everything, and if the Rockets win their first title since 1995, that will be a big reason why.