After 18 years and 1,365 combined regular season and playoff games, Chris Paul came off the bench for the first time in his career against the Houston Rockets on Sunday. It was an inevitable landmark game for the veteran point-guard after his trade to the Golden State Warriors in June, but one briefly delayed by the absence of Draymond Green through the opening two games of the season.
With Green returning straight back into the starting lineup, Paul was moved to the bench in what presented as a critical early juncture in this Warriors season. How would the 12-time All-Star and future Hall of Famer respond?
Like the professional he is, Chris Paul buried any concern regarding his sixth-man role in the Golden State Warriors 106-95 win over the Houston Rockets.
After the Rockets had built an early lead against the starting unit, the 38-year-old played a central figure in a Warrior bench group that went on a 24-8 run in just over eight minutes. It was the sort of scenario fans could only dream about with Stephen Curry on the bench, even if Houston are projected to be at the bottom of the Western Conference.
Paul controlled that period in a way he’d done previously throughout the second halves against the Phoenix Suns and Sacramento Kings. Perhaps his positive attitude to the bench role had actually provided an early spark for the group, a benefit that Green alluded to in the postgame.
"For him to be willing to take a bench role on this team, it sends a tone. It sends a message…Those are the type of the things that you feed off of and you try to build off of,” Green said."
The second unit wasn’t nearly as dominant in the second-half, but Paul made a couple of his patented mid-range jumpshots that steadied the ship slightly before Stephen Curry took over late to ensure victory.
Paul returned to the fold late in place of Andrew Wiggins, closing as part of a lineup with he, Curry, Klay Thompson, Green and Kevon Looney. That’s evidently Steve Kerr’s most trustworthy group, leaving Wiggins as a talking point moving forward.
Regardless, Paul’s introduction has helped Golden State win their opening two road games — it took until their ninth game to notch their first last season. Kerr acknowledged that the “vibe is great” around the team at present, owing partly to CP3’s arrival.
"“It’s massive the way Chris has embraced everything…When a vet, a great player, an All-Star shows that kind of sacrifice, it just sets a tone for the whole team,” Kerr said postgame."
One player feeling the positive influence has been Klay Thompson, with 11 of the 33-year-old’s 20 made field-goals this season having come from Paul assists. It’s only early, but the chemistry is already starting to shine among the veteran group.
"“To be as selfless as he is, to break that streak is just awesome. He’s been such a joy to play with and I know he’s enhanced my game and he’ll continue to throughout the season,” Thompson said."
Paul finished Sunday’s game with eight points, five rebounds and seven assists, though it was his game-high +22 that stood out most. It’s the third-straight game to start the season where he’s recorded a positive plus-minus, and a perfect start to life as a sixth man. The secret? Paul’s acceptance evidently comes from a reflective attitude in his 19th season, aided by the sheer desire to break his championship drought.
"“It’s whatever I got to do to help our team win…If you get a chance to play long enough in this career, there’s things that’s going to change. There’s things that are going to be different,” Paul said after the win over the Rockets."
For all the positivity around the start to his Warrior career, there’s still plenty of room for improvement which can only mean good things for the franchise. That starts with his own scoring, with Paul having shot just 34.3% from the floor including missing all 11 of his three-point attempts through three games.
Paul and this team will ultimately be defined by what happens come the postseason, but they’ve already laid the foundations towards garnering legitimate success. That’s a fair way from the offseason view of many that saw him simply as an expiring contract the Warriors would look to flip for a more attractive asset.