Phoenix Suns coach Monty Williams said it was his decision to remove starting point guard Chris Paul from the final seven minutes of his team’s 109-102 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers in Game 2 of the first round of the Western Conference playoffs on Tuesday night.
Paul, who suffered a right shoulder contusion in Game 1 on Sunday, played only 23 minutes on Tuesday, totaling six points, five assists and three rebounds on 2-of-5 shooting. He played just over eight minutes in the first quarter and the first 7:54 in the second before he was removed in the final stretch before halftime, a spot he usually appears in.
Paul subsequently appeared for the first 4:13 of the third quarter and returned shortly after the start of the fourth, though he played just 2:38 and did not finish the game. The Suns took an 88-86 lead with a putback dunk from starting center Deandre Ayton shortly after Paul’s removal with 7:02 left but succumbed to a 23-14 Laker run over the remainder of the game, including a 7-0 spurt that gave Los Angeles a 100-92 edge with two minutes to go.
“It was all me,” Williams said. “Just looking at him, holding his arm the way that he was holding it, I just couldn’t watch him run like that. He was trying to make plays, he battled. He’s a warrior, we all know that, and I just made a decision to take him out.”
Paul appeared significantly limited in his time on the floor, wearing a heavy amount of KT Tape on his bruised right shoulder. He seemed to defer shots he would normally take and some of his passes lacked their normal speed, resulting in three turnovers.
Despite his limitations, Paul finished with the second-best plus-minus differential of Phoenix’s starters at minus-2.
In Paul’s relief, backup point guard Cameron Payne played nearly 33 minutes and had 19 points on 6-of-15 shooting along with seven assists and three rebounds. He had a number of big plays, including a deep 3-pointer over Lakers backup guard Alex Caruso to tie the game at 86 with 7:04 remaining, before fouling out with just over 12 seconds remaining.
Despite his impact, Payne said it was difficult for the Suns to adjust without Paul.
“It was tough,” he said. “It’s always tough to see anybody on our team down and can’t help us out.”
After the game, Williams said the Suns are “hopeful” Paul’s shoulder will improve before their third game against the Lakers on Thursday, which will be played in Los Angeles. Williams did not go into extensive details about Paul’s status, only saying that he was “laboring” on Tuesday.
If Phoenix has to play extensively without Paul, it will have to get much better production from its entire roster. The Suns shot 15-of-41 outside of starting shooting guard Devin Booker and Ayton, who had 53 combined points on 18-of-30 shooting, and made just eight of 26 3-point attempts as a team.
“At all times, we miss him,” Booker said. “And it’s going to be tough but we all have to step up. We don’t know how his health is right now and how quick he’s going to recover, but everybody has to give a little bit more.”