In a series that potentially had its turning point already, it could have a second coming right after.
After Deandre Ayton’s Valley-Oop in Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals against the Los Angeles Clippers gave the Phoenix Suns a 2-0 series lead, point guard Chris Paul (health and safety protocols) is listed as probable on the injury report after missing the series’ first two games.
Paul’s potential arrival back into the starting lineup could not have come at a better time, and that may sound strange to say given how Cam Payne put up a career-high 29 points on Tuesday in Paul’s place.
But the Suns’ offense got stagnant and sloppy, appearing to reach that inevitable point of really missing its leader.
The Clippers’ starting lineup tweak of placing Patrick Beverley in for Terance Mann paid off, as Beverley was getting to spots a full step quicker than Mann was in order to deny Devin Booker’s space.
One minor thing to watch in Game 3 that’s relevant in that clip was Beverley’s ability to wiggle around Deandre Ayton’s screens. Ayton was superb in Game 2 but Los Angeles seemed to have a good feel for how to get around him and that type of thing can affect the offense’s flow.
Booker had eight turnovers in the game, his highest number since early January and a mark he’d only hit twice in the regular season.
His teammate, Jae Crowder, was cutting a few times to try and give Booker a better passing window, but both times that appeared to throw the two-guard off.
If it wasn’t for Payne and Ayton consistently scoring throughout the game for a combined 53 points, the Suns would have been in a whole lot of trouble.
The Suns cannot rely on that over the course of the series, the same way there’s no way for them to avoid relying on Paul’s stabilizing acts where the Point God can use a four-possession spurt to calm everyone down and restore balance.
If Paul is indeed back, the Clippers arrive at quite the choice to make with their starting lineup. Head coach Ty Lue put center Ivica Zubac back in for Game 2 after going small on Sunday, but Zubac’s drop coverage in pick-and-roll is food for Paul.
Suns head coach Monty Williams can go deep into the team’s dynamic ball screen offense to attack Zubac even more.
Crowder gets involved here and it leaves Zubac on Paul. Whoops.
The Clippers could go small again but Paul can still get to his spots against that too, where wrinkles in the offense would be used again.
The Suns even ran Paul off the ball once or twice against Los Angeles in the regular season, a rare sight.
And that’s just covering Paul’s impact as a scorer. The injection of that part of his game alone would be a tremendous boost to the Suns’ offense, and then there’s obviously his passing and playmaking.
Having his voice back around would be massive as well. Williams a few times has stated the importance of Crowder in the opening part of this series because Crowder’s veteran communication on the court is even more important without Paul there.
That presence can’t help but be sorely missed, something the Suns will hope they don’t have to go without for any longer.