Again, Chris Paul has been denied a trip to the Western Conference finals. Despite dominating the first four games of the series en route to a 3-1 lead, Paul's Los Angeles Clippers lost the last three games to the Houston Rockets, including Sunday's deciding Game 7.
With eight All-Star appearances in 10 seasons, six All-NBA selections (including four spots on the first team), an All-Star MVP and a Rookie of the Year award to his credit, Paul is clearly the best player never to appear in the conference finals. But he's hardly alone in not seeing his individual success translate into extended playoff runs.
The Rockets' win meant Josh Smith will make his first trip to the conference finals, as will All-Stars Elton Brand (Atlanta Hawks) and Andre Iguodala (Golden State Warriors). That leaves the following list of the 10 best players since the ABA-NBA merger (in terms of my wins above replacement player (WARP) statistic) never to reach the conference finals.
A dubious Top 10
1. Chris Paul
10 seasons, 7 playoff appearances
4 trips to second round
The closer Paul has gotten to the conference finals, the greater the heartbreak his teams have generally experienced. This is the second time Paul's teams have lost a Game 7 in the second round. In 2008, Paul's New Orleans Hornets lost to the San Antonio Spurs at home even though Paul had 18 points, 14 assists, eight rebounds and five steals while playing all but 25 seconds.
Last season, Paul's late-game miscues played a big role in the Oklahoma City Thunder's comeback in Game 5 with the Clippers on the verge of taking a 3-2 lead in the series. And this time around, the Clippers lost both a 3-1 series lead and a 19-point lead in the second half of Game 6. Again, Paul's brilliance wasn't enough.