The NBA is on hold for the foreseeable future. To help fill the void, we’re looking back at the defining moments of the 65-ish games of the 2019-20 season so far.
Chris Paul stands before the media in a kiwi-colored sweatshirt with “nappy” across the chest and a thermoplastic-urethane Pyer Moss logo rain jacket that stops at his shins. He’s wearing Legacy 312s the color of the Aliens from Toy Story and around his neck is an owl necklace. It’s custom and beautiful. A golden bird of prey with diamonds in its stomach. Real swashbuckling stuff. He only takes it off for games. There’s a whole story to it. We’ve no time for that here. Paul seems relaxed enough, if a little embarrassed, and he explains himself.
Paul: That happens more often than not. Sometimes refs just be like “Whatever,” but that is the rule. You know what I mean? If you check in without your jersey tucked, it’s a delay of game. Call it what you want to, but.
ESPN’s Royce Young: Did you know that they had already had one earlier?
To understand the comments above we have to go back. Back to earlier in the night, when there were 1.7 seconds left in the fourth quarter, and the Minnesota Timberwolves had a 121-119 lead and the ball out of bounds. The ball is opposite the Oklahoma City Thunder’s bench, on the Timberwolves’ end of the floor, and Treveon Graham inbounds it to Karl-Anthony Towns. The Thunder immediately foul. Towns goes to the line.
Things can change quickly. There was a time not long ago when the drafting of Jordan Bell was deemed another example of Golden State Warrior brilliance. This past summer, depending on whom you asked, Paul was a hobbled albatross with hamstring and James Harden problems who had no interest in coming to Oklahoma City and little hope another organization would want to take on his contract. Things are different now.
There’s 1.1 seconds left in the game. Towns is at the line. He’s an 80 percent free throw shooter. He’s shooting 43 percent from 3 on almost nine attempts a game. He might wind up being the greatest shooting big man of all time. He’s also about to be miserable. Not just in the short term, either. Coming into this game, the Timberwolves were 10-10. They’ve won nine games total since, and during a particularly rough stretch this winter, lost 13 in a row and 18 of 19. Right now they’re 19-45 and hoping D’Angelo Russell is their savior. On with it, though. Towns misses the first. The arena starts buzzing. Things can change quickly. Bell checks into the game. His jersey’s untucked. Paul sees this, takes a couple steps in official Scott Foster’s direction, and shouts, “His jersey untucked! His jersey untucked! That’s a delay of game!” Foster and Paul are not amigos. Despite this, Foster acquiesces, blows his whistle, rings up Bell. Delay of game. The thing is, the Timberwolves had already been charged with another delay in the third quarter. Who got rung up then, you ask? Karl-Anthony Towns. He took too long getting ice packs off his knees at the scorer’s table when he was about to check in. That this was the second delay meant an automatic technical. Paul knew this. So did the Wolves. Jeff Teague sort of sprint-walks away, hands on his head, aghast. Minnesota head coach Ryan Saunders, hands begging for answers, stands there with his jaw on the ground. Paul heads to the other end of the floor for the technical, makes eye contact with Saunders, and says something. Saunders smirks and rolls his eyes. The Thunder’s TV analyst, Michael Cage, gives his thoughts on the call: “Now that’s big.” Danilo Gallinari hits the free throw. It’s 121-120, Timberwolves are still up. Back to the other end. Towns tries to intentionally miss the second free throw. The Thunder have no timeouts. Their only shot off a rebound would be a prayer from somewhere well beyond half court. All Towns has to do is miss it and they can take it to the house. He makes it. What a doofus. 122-120. Still 1.1 left on the clock. Thunder ball.
Sometime during all this madness, unbeknownst to a majority of the American public, Dennis Schröder and Steven Adams had this exchange:
Adams takes the ball out of the net, gets both feet out of bounds, and hurls a dream of a baseball pass the length of the court. Schröder, who should be the front-runner for Sixth Man of the Year, has a step on Teague. Adams drops it in a bucket. Schröder one hands it out of the Oklahoma sky and on the run banks one in off the glass to tie it and send the game to overtime. There was an entire period left to play, but the Wolves had already lost. The Thunder outscored them 17-5 during overtime and won going away. Things can change quickly.
Paul did more than just tattle. His final line for the night: 30 points on 11 of 20 from the field, plus four rebounds, seven assists, and even two blocks because, I don’t know, Father Time accidentally nodded off a couple of times during the game. But what a time that tattle was. Anything to win. Paul knowing the rule and fussing long enough and loud enough to make Foster aware of the infraction is just about the most Chris Paul thing imaginable. This is Seurat on the Island of La Grande Jatte, Ron Burgundy on the jazz flute at Tino’s, Jon Taffer screaming at a bar. Imagine getting to see Beethoven compose his Ninth Symphony. Imagine getting to see a genius of that level craft their masterpiece. You don’t have to. You got to see Chris Paul tell on somebody for checking into the game with their jersey untucked and you got to see it work.
The short of it is, Paul’s not done. He’s played so well this season, been so steady, so consistent, so annoying. Statistically, he’s been the most clutch player in the league this season, feeling himself so much sometimes that when he gets to his spot around the elbows and lets the ball go he just shouts “layup” and starts running to the other end of the floor. If there was a word cloud for his season, rejuvenated would be so gigantic you wouldn’t even be able to see any of the other words. He’s been the unquestioned leader of the Thunder, has them in the 5-seed out West, a game back from the Jazz, whom they were supposed to play on Wednesday, March 11, 2020, and now the season is suspended until further notice and I and my wife and our two daughters stay inside our house all day.
Tyler Parker is a writer from Oklahoma.