The Phoenix Suns will be without point guard Chris Paul in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals against the Los Angeles Clippers on Father’s Day Sunday.
That much is certain.
But what remains to be seen is who will step up to fill the shoes of the Point God in Monty Williams’ starting five.
All signs are pointing to that man being point guard Cam Payne.
“Cam has done a great job of just running the offense, picking up a few pointers from Chris — one of the all-time great point guards of our league — and just being aggressive,” Suns forward Jae Crowder said. “I think it’s a tough situation for him to get put in because when he comes off the bench, he’s a totally different player.
“But we want him to play the same way. We’re just telling him, ‘Starting or coming off the bench, we want you to play the same way.’ He’s done a great job all playoffs, all season long with just doing what he does, getting guys involved and obviously being a threat himself.”
Payne played in 60 games for the Suns in the 2020-21 regular season, only one of which he started.
While playing 18 minutes per contest, the point guard averaged 8.4 points on 48.4% shooting from the field (44% from three) to go along with 3.6 assists.
Nobody expects Payne to be Paul — he’s nicknamed the Point God for a reason. But in order to fill that void, the Suns know they will have to rise up together in a collective effort in order to do so.
“He can’t fill that void of Chris by himself. It’s a collective effort and we’re aware of that and we’re going to pick the job up collectively,” Crowder said. “But I think Cam is very prepared for this moment. He’s eager to go out there and play and continue to do the things he’s done all playoffs: and that’s just be prepared and go out there and play free and play fast.
“Obviously he speeds up the tempo for us a little bit more with his speed and quickness. He’s a great player and we expect him to keep our offense moving, help our offense rolling and fill the void as much as possible with starting minutes.”
And in just his third career trip to the postseason, Payne has seen his workload increase from the regular season up to 20.4 minutes per contest.
A lot of that has to do with the fact that Paul had been nursing a shoulder injury for most of the opening-round series with the Los Angeles Lakers.
Payne is averaging 10.2 points, 2.9 assists and 1.0 steals across Phoenix’s 10 playoff games, all of which featured the point guard coming off the bench.
“He’s not scared of the moment. Usually when somebody gets put in that situation would come in a little hesitant, but that’s not how (he) is at all,” Suns guard Devin Booker said. “Even in the short time when he’s coming off the bench during the season, he’s always ready to go and not afraid of the moment and he’s not scared to make mistakes out there.
“That’s the type of confidence you need to play in these types of basketball games. Everybody on the court 1-5 has to be a threat and he’s definitely a threat. He played two very good series — started in the Lakers series and then against the Nuggets. I know he’s ready for anything. He carries himself with that type of confidence and he’s put the work in to back it up, so we’ll see how that goes.”
While Phoenix will be without Paul in Game 1, the Clippers will also be missing arguably their best player in forward Kawhi Leonard, who has been ruled out of Sunday’s contest due to a right knee sprain.
The Suns host the Clippers in Game 1 of a seven-game series that will crown the Western Conference champions and send them to the NBA Finals.
Tip-off is set for 12:30 p.m. Catch all the action on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station.