NEW ORLEANS – You might say, Phoenix Suns star guard Chris Paul turned the other cheek on Friday night after chants of “F-You” from Pelicans fans in the Smoothie King Center late in New Orleans’ 114-111 loss.
He could’ve told them to kiss his ass after he handed theirs to them.
Paul scored 19 of his 28 points and even grabbed three of his four rebounds in the fourth quarter of a close game to bury his former team and take a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven opening round series in the NBA Playoffs. The two teams meet again Sunday (9:30 p.m. eastern, TNT) in the Smoothie King Center.
Paul, who also had 14 assists, played so well, Phoenix did not miss star guard Devin Booker, who missed the game and could miss the rest of the season with a hamstring injury.
Late in the game when Phoenix was in control and Paul was still popping, the chants of “F-You, Chris Paul” came from a few angry fans of a capacity crowd of 17,791.
When asked about the “reception,” Paul said, “Which chants?” And it is believable that he did not hear them.
“Oh, no, these are my people, man you’re talking about,” he said when told what the chant was. “Like I said, I grew up here. Six of the best years of my life I played for New Orleans.”
Paul, 36, meant he grew up as an NBA player in New Orleans. The Winston-Salem, North Carolina, native was the fourth pick of the first round out of Wake Forest by the then-New Orleans Hornets in the 2005 NBA Draft. He played in New Orleans from 2005-11, winning NBA Rookie of the Year in 2006 and was an All-Star in 2008-11 and a first team All-Defensive team in 2009 while leading the NBA in assists and steals in 2008 and ’09.
He helped lead New Orleans to its first of just two playoff series victories all-time in 2008 over Dallas, four games to one, and he directed them to two other playoff appearances in 2009 and 2011. New Orleans, which became the Pelicans in 2013, is in just its third playoff appearance since he left for the Los Angeles Clippers in 2011. The Pels’ only other series win was over Portland in 2018.
“That’s a select number of people in an entire group,” Paul said of the chants. “I know how I am with this city. That will never change. I had my parents here, my family here. There will always be so much love between me and the city here. I never pay that any mind.”
Paul, who filmed a tourism commercial eating gumbo when he was playing in New Orleans, planned on visiting a restaurant or two while in New Orleans, though he became a vegan since leaving the city that diet care forgot.
“There are a lot of restaurants here,” he said. “I eat a lot different than I did when I was playing here. Man, somebody got some vegan gumbo, holler at me. Or if they got some beignets. I used to have this Krispy Kreme bread pudding that was fire, too. Yeah, a little change for me.”
Paul said he planned on dropping by the Zurich Classic PGA golf tournament on Saturday, too. The French Quarter Festival of music and food is also going on Saturday and Sunday.
Paul exited the press conference room and immediately hugged and greeted some of the Smoothie King Center staff crew who were working back when he was a Hornet.
“Love it here,” he said.