The emotions came pouring out of New Orleans Pelicans head coach Willie Green as he hugged his former teammate and player, the Phoenix Suns’ Chris Paul. The Suns defeated the Pelicans in game 6 of their first-round playoff series to advance to the conference semis behind a masterful performance by Paul. The two men shared a long embrace, tears were shed and deep words were spoken.
— NBA on TNT (@NBAonTNT) April 29, 2022
“You have no clue. How emotional every game has been,” said Paul. “Willie Green being my brother, somebody I talk to about everything. Us not talking this whole series, seeing his son sitting on the baseline.”
"You have no clue. How emotional every game has been. Willie Green being my brother, somebody I talk to about everything. Us not talking this whole series, seeing his son sitting on the baseline."
Chris Paul on his emotional moment with Willie Green 💯pic.twitter.com/nSNV8XlOjZ
— ClutchPoints (@ClutchPointsApp) April 29, 2022
Paul and Green were teammates on the then-New Orleans Hornets and on the Los Angeles Clippers. Once Green retired as a player, he became an assistant on the Golden State Warriors, winning two championships. His former head coach in New Orleans, Monty Williams, hired him as an assistant in 2019, and when the Suns acquired Paul in 2020, the three men were reunited. Last season, they advanced to the NBA Finals and went up 2-0 before losing to the Milwaukee Bucks in six games.
This series was full of emotions, connections and storylines beyond basketball.
The New Orleans Hornets franchise drafted Paul in 2005, the same year Hurricane Katrina ravaged and destroyed New Orleans and the surrounding regions. Paul and the Hornets like the NFL’s Saints made for a source of hope, inspiration and pride for a city that needed all that and more in the devastating aftermath.
Paul was 20 years old when he was drafted and has repeatedly said “this city [New Orleans] raised me.” It was there where he and Green connected and built a relationship.
“I don’t think people will ever understand that relationship,” Paul said. “I’m not in Phoenix if it’s not for Willie. He’s the first person who ever knew I had a thought of going to Phoenix. Willie my family.”
But the two “brothers” had to put all that aside and compete.
The Pelicans and their young guns gave the Suns, the number-one seed, the best team in the NBA, all they could handle. It took the Suns’ collective spirit and ability to execute in tense moments to win this series, and Paul was masterful. He finished the closeout game with 33 points, eight assists and five rebounds, and was a perfect 14-14 from the field.
“[Competing against Chris] was one of the toughest things I’ve ever had to do in basketball,” Green said. “Coaching against people that I love and care about, that was tough.”
The offseason begins in New Orleans and the future looks immensely brighter than it did six months ago.
Brandon Ingram, CJ McCollum and Herb Jones are clearly the core of a team that can make the playoffs. In theory, adding “franchise player” Zion Williamson should make them a legit contender. But it’s not that easy and it’s unclear where Zion is in terms of his commitment.
As for the Suns, the journey toward a return to the NBA Finals and another shot at that elusive title continues. Up next, they take on Luka Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks for a spot in the Western Conference finals.