CP3 must seize his chance to be Warriors' playoff difference-maker

CP3 must seize his chance to be Warriors’ playoff difference-maker originally appeared on NBC Sports Bay Area

SAN FRANCISCO – While answering a question during his postgame news conference Sunday afternoon, Steve Kerr was interrupted by an insistent Chris Paul. Told he was needed, the longtime Warriors coach stopped in mid-answer, walking off the podium and out of the room.

Upon his return a few minutes later, Kerr finished his answer, which led to another question, this one relatively facetious:

“Does Chris boss you around like that all the time?” asked Marcus Thompson II of The Athletic.

“Yes,” Kerr said. “They all do. All of them. It’s NBA coaching in 2024. You just do what they say.”

There is considerable truth in Kerr’s response. The NBA is, in many ways, a player’s league. Particularly veteran players. And Paul, at 38 the third-oldest player on an NBA roster, is a veteran’s veteran.

Paul will need to be that and more in the coming days for the Warriors to advance through and beyond their first NBA Western Conference play-in tournament game against the Kings on Tuesday night at Golden 1 Center in Sacramento.

The conditions are ripe for this to be Paul’s moment. His arrival last summer was greeted by muted cheers largely obscured by deafening skepticism. There were questions about his role, his flinty personality, his style of play, his durability and, of course, his age. He spent the last six months navigating all of it very well, winning over teammates and coaches and almost all of Dub Nation.

But his real work is just beginning.

If Paul is highly effective in the coming days and weeks, he’ll earn unanimous approval, maybe even achieve local reverence. The postseason and the brighter – and often harsher – lights that come with it are shining. Nothing in team sports breeds greater pressure than a win-or-go-home game.

Beating the Kings would send the Warriors into a second play-in game Friday against the loser of the Los Angeles Lakers-New Orleans Pelicans game that tips off 2.5 hours earlier Tuesday in New Orleans. Two victories would send the Warriors into the first round of the playoffs, in which they would open with two games in Oklahoma City.

Put simply, this vagabond tour would keep the Warriors away from the Bay Area for almost two weeks. They’re going to need something from everyone but will be led by the vets.

“We should be a good road team,” Kerr said after the Warriors closed the regular season at Chase Center with a 123-116 dispatching of the Utah Jazz. “We’ve got a lot of guys who have won championships – and veteran players like Chris, who are unfazed by the road.”

Paul is wrapping up his 19th NBA season. He has played in 149 playoff games, for five different teams, and never tasted the champagne of ultimate triumph. He won’t have many more chances.

The Warriors need Paul to the ‘Point God.’ They’re going to need his orchestration ability. His stabilizing influence on and off the court. They’ll need him to score, to drop dimes, to be disruptive on defense. His knack for avoiding turnovers. They might need his ability to deescalate a potential explosion by Draymond Green.

Golden State general manager Mike Dunleavy, with approval from the team’s veteran and authorization from CEO Joe Lacob, traded for Paul and his $30 million salary not for regular-season production but for the high-stakes games that follow.

The first of those games comes against an opponent that knows the Warriors inside and out. An opponent that has had a rock in its collective gut since last April, after reaching the playoffs for the first time in 16 years – only to lose to Golden State in the first round of a searing seven-game series.

“Us knowing them helps, but on the flip side they know us as well and that hurts,” Green said. “Coaches are going to put a game plan together. Their coaches will put a great game plan together. Our coaches will put a great game plan together.

“But then you’ve got to go out there and play.”

That’s where CP3 comes in. He was not a part of the Warriors-Kings battle last April. He wasn’t with Golden State in the next series, the conference semifinals against the Lakers.

Paul’s skill and big-game experience positions him to be a difference maker in every game the Warriors play.

If it’s only a one-game postseason for the Warriors, neither Paul nor the Warriors will be pleased. They both want more. Much more. They want to play deep into May.

An abbreviated postseason would mean the one-year experiment that was CP3 will have ended with unmet expectations that must be shared by all.

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