Chris Paul’s value

The Sixers once again trekked to the court without two starters, a handicap that certainly affected them yesterday. That said, it’s also fair to argue that they remained a force, especially at the Wells Fargo Center and with Most Valuable Player candidate Joel Embiid suited up. And, true to the determination and resolve that had them pacing the Eastern Conference heading into their homestand, they made a go at winning the outing. Never mind that they faced the red-hot Suns, holders of the league’s second-best overall record.

True enough, the match was close all the way. Leads kept changing and being exchanged. Adding to the drama was Chris Paul — close to a sure thing on the charity stripe — missing his second free throw with 0.8 ticks left in regulation and the Suns up by three. The ensuring rebound was snared by Embiid, who promptly turned around and heaved the ball to the opposite basket. As things turned out, his throw was on the mark, but ever so slightly strong — drawing fiberglass and then iron before rimming out.

It’s fair to wonder how the Suns would have reacted had the prayer been answered. Up until then, they put up a gallant stand that underscored their strength on the road. Yet, every time they threatened to pull away, the Sixers kept pace. And when the opportunity to close the deal finally came, Paul bucked the odds and flubbed the back end of his trip to the line. Only when Embiid barely failed with his ensuing Hail Mary did they get to claim relief. In the aftermath, head coach Monty Williams ruminated on how close defeat was snatched from the throes of victory. “It would have made for a long flight, long night, and not a lot of sleep.”

To be sure, a win is a win, and the Suns have been counting a lot since the 2020-21 season began. In this regard, there can be no overestimating the value of Paul’s leadership. He affected the Thunder the same way last year, and his steady hand has been a boon to the otherwise-inexperienced roster, All-Star Devin Booker included. At 35, he’s still going there and doing that, but with the added mission of imparting his wellspring of knowledge to the younger set. Success may be attributable to a collective effort, but it’s clear to all and sundry who propels the engine.

Anthony L. Cuaycong has been writing Courtside since BusinessWorld introduced a Sports section in 1994. He is a consultant on strategic planning, operations and Human Resources management, corporate communications, and business development.