All signs point to a Paul-less Game 1 on Sunday.
Drama hit the Valley this week when the news broke that Phoenix Suns All-NBA Second Team guard Chris Paul had entered the health and safety protocols following a positive COVID-19 test. The long-awaited update came on Saturday regarding Paul’s availability entering the Western Conference Finals — the second of his career.
It appears as if today’s news isn’t what we were hoping for:
Official Update from Phoenix Suns on Saturday, January 19 —
Phoenix Suns guard Chris Paul remains in health and safety protocols. Further updates on his status will be provided as appropriate.
Despite being vaccinated, Paul remains mired in the NBA’s healthy and safety protocols. It is not clear at to where he stands relative to his progress within the context of those protocols.
During a media availability on Saturday afternoon after practice, head coach Monty Williams again did not give any additional information regarding Paul’s prognosis, calling it “day-to-day” while holding out the possibility that Paul could play in Game One. Of course, that would require Paul to log his first negative test today, then another tomorrow pregame.
Seeing as he is vaccinated, per Arizona Sports, “vaccinated players must either wait 10 days after testing positive and show no symptoms for at least 24 hours or — the more likely option for a vaccinated player — receive two back-to-back PCR tests at least 24 hours apart. There are also cardiac tests involved in being cleared.”
Despite not being allowed around the team during his time on the protocol, Paul has been leading from afar ahead of Game One.
“He’s been blowing up my phone,” chuckled forward Jae Crowder on Saturday, adding that Paul even rang him during halftime of Game Six between the Clippers and Jazz on Friday night to start scouting their next opponent.
If the current situation holds, it appears that Paul will not be on the court with his teammates for Game One of the conference finals on Sunday at 12:30 p.m. MST. The Suns will have to make the appropriate adjustments in an effort to account for the missing 11-time All-Star.
“You’ve just gotta have the mentality of next man up,” Crowder said. “We have enough in our locker room to get it done.”
The burden will likely fall on Cameron Payne and potentially others such as veterans E’Twaun Moore, Langston Galloway or defensive specialist Jevon Carter.
“Our mindset has not changed,” Crowder added. “Coach has done a great job of preparing us for (this moment).”
At the same time, Los Angeles is likely to be without Kawhi Leonard, who suffered an “ACL injury” in Game Four of the semis, according to Brian Windhorst of ESPN. Leonard missed Games Five and Six against Utah this week, and his status remains cloudy for the start of the West finals.
That series will begin on Father’s Day afternoon at 12:30, with a trip to the Finals for the first time since 1993 on the line for the Suns.