The Phoenix Suns are riding the momentum, the Los Angeles Clippers now have the home court and Chris Paul holds the wild card when the Western Conference finals head to California on Thursday night for Game 3 in the best-of-seven series.
Despite missing Paul, their Most Valuable Player candidate who was sidelined due to COVID-19 protocols, the second-seeded Suns held serve at home in the first two games of the series, using polar-opposite means of recording 120-114 and 104-103 wins.
Devin Booker dominated Game 1, exploding for 40 points as part of a triple-double that steered the offensive-minded win. The Suns shot 55 percent in a game in which both teams were over 40 percent on 3-pointers while combining to hoist up 79 of them.
Defensive adjustments produced dramatically different results — except for the winner — in Game 2, one in which Booker was held to exactly half his previous game’s point total. This time, the clubs combined for just 60 attempts from beyond the arc, and befitting a contest played much more in the vicinity of the hoop, Deandre Ayton’s one-for-the-ages dunk off an alley-oop pass in the final second spelled the difference in a one-point game.
The fourth-seeded Clippers, who fell behind 2-0 in each of their first two series this postseason before rallying to eliminate Dallas and Utah, hope a home court on which they have ground out four straight wins can flip the script in Game 3.
But the Suns packed Paul for the short flight to Los Angeles, and he’s considered a probable participant in their attempt to go up 3-0 on a second straight opponent.
Phoenix coach Monty Williams wouldn’t go on record saying he’d be penciling Paul into his starting lineup, but assured he wouldn’t hesitate if given the medical green light.
“I’m sure if I tried to keep Chris out of the game, we’d have to square off and go toe-to-toe,” he joked. “So we’ll just make that assessment when the time comes.”
The Clippers expect no such series debut from their top player, Kawhi Leonard, who suffered a knee injury in the Utah series. While he has yet to be ruled out of Game 3, most reports around the team say that he’s sustained either a sprained or torn ACL, with his prognosis ranging from out for this series to questionable for next season’s opener.
Veteran guard Patrick Beverley, who shared the defensive responsibility on Booker in Game 2, assures whoever shows up wearing the home team’s colors at the Staples Center will represent the franchise well.
“We’ve been in the trenches before,” he assured. “We respond well in the trenches. We’ll respond well. We always do.”
Even without Leonard, one of their best individual defenders, the Clippers were able to get a handle on Booker in Game 2. He shot just 5-for-16 two days after having been borderline unstoppable on a 15-for-29 day.
But as was the case most of the season when Paul was his sidekick, Booker got a difference-making performance from his backcourt mate — this time Cameron Payne — on a 29-point, nine-assist night on Tuesday.
Coupled with Ayton’s 24-point, 14-rebound double-double, the Suns demonstrated the type of well-rounded attack that shocked the Los Angeles Lakers in Round 1 and dominated Denver in the Western semifinals.
–Field Level Media