"We're not ..." Paul started, pausing briefly, "playing well enough right now. I'm not going to say we're not good enough, but we're not playing well enough right now."
The Suns fell 102-97 at home on Wednesday to Paul's former team, the Oklahoma City Thunder, with the final three minutes going the wrong way for Phoenix. The Thunder finished on an 11-2 run, with the Suns missing their final six shots.
Paul, who led the Thunder to a surprising 5-seed last season behind brilliant clutch-time play, scored a season-high 32 points in 35 minutes against OKC. But two clean looks in the final 20 seconds didn't fall, the first being a go-ahead midrange turnaround that spun out of the rim, and the second a potential tying straightaway 3 that caught all air.
The Suns have been without All-Star guard Devin Booker the past two games because of a sore hamstring. While the team has missed his scoring ability, coach Monty Williams refused to acknowledge that, or anything else, as an excuse.
"Until this team understands consistency for four quarters, we're going to feel like this a lot," Williams said. "We can try to get everybody to feel sorry for us. It ain't going to work. We've got to be consistent. This is on us."
Williams, clearly aggravated in his two-minute postgame availability, harped on Suns' need for consistency.
"Down the stretch, we had an unbelievably poor finish," he said. "We have open shots, missing shots under the basket. It's just poor. Poor execution and poor finishing. That's it.
"At some point, you just have to finish out games and understand what it takes to be a really good team is consistency," Williams said. "Period. That's the deal."
Williams made it known if he was going to be asked any question from that point on, he would answer the same way: consistency.
"Whatever you ask me, I'm going to say 'consistency,'" Williams said. "That's it."
The Suns led by 15 at the end of the first quarter. But with sloppy turnovers and stagnant offense, they scored only 10 points in the second quarter, prompting a 21-4 run by OKC to take the lead heading to the break.
As Paul tends to do, he calmly settled into the game, deferring early but asserting himself late. He scored 13 points in the fourth quarter to give the Suns a late lead, but defensive lapses and bad offensive possessions led to Phoenix collapsing.
"We play in spurts," Paul said. "We've gotta respect who we're playing against. Every night. Respect the opponent. They get paid just like we do."
For Paul and the Suns, a promising start to the season has slipped in the past three weeks. The addition of Paul had appeared to help sustain the momentum they built with their undefeated bubble run, but a disruption to their season with a three-game break from health and safety protocols and then Booker's injury has brought it to a halt.
The Suns have lost five of their past six games, with pretty much all the recent losses being close calls -- back-to-back overtime games against the Denver Nuggets not going their way, a four-point loss to the Memphis Grizzlies and a five-point loss to OKC.
"I'm just trying to figure out how we can win," Paul said. "Because the losing stuff gets old."