Here’s your daily update on Phoenix Suns All-Star, and probable All-NBA, point guard Chris Paul.
To catch you up quickly, Paul was injured in the first half of Game One last Sunday as the Suns were up 38-29. The injury to Paul’s right shoulder came either on a normal basketball hit from LeBron James as they fought for a rebound or on a banged head on Cameron Johnson as he came back down to the floor.
Either way, he’s got what’s being characterized as a stinger — no structural damage to the shoulder, but a great deal of pain and soreness that makes it near impossible to play at an NBA basketball level for two straight hours. If this were the regular season, Paul would be rehabbing carefully, and only returning to the court when he was pain free.
But these are the playoffs, and Paul’s Suns fought hard all season for the 2nd seed and home court advantage against the 7th-seeded Los Angeles Lakers. Paul is not about to wait patiently for the soreness to subside. He’s quite simply a full go every game.
But it’s been ugly.
In each of the last two games, both losses by the Suns to the Lakers, Paul looked functional in the first quarter only to degrade in mobility by halftime and before barely playing in the second half.
In Games Two and Three, he only averaged 6.5 points on 38/0/50 splits, plus 5.5 assists to 2.5 turnovers in 25 minutes. This after an All-NBA season of 16.5 points on 49/39/94 splits, plus 8.9 assists against only 2.2 turnovers in 31 minutes. To make matters worse, with Paul the Suns are 50-21 overall and league-leading 24-12 in the clutch (including winning 14 of the last 15 chances) with him in the lineup but without him they have lost the last two games and been blown out when the game is in the balance.
Will Paul be any healthier on Sunday in Game Four?
“He didn’t do anything today,” head coach Monty Williams said Saturday after practice, 24 hours before Game Four. “We gave him some rest today with the hopes that he’ll feel better tomorrow. And we’ll just see how it goes when he wakes up tomorrow.”
In the games, Paul looks severely limited. He hates to shoot at all, and won’t even attempt a three pointer. He can’t run the offense against heavy pressure because he can’t control the dribble his normal way. And he can’t keep the defense guessing. Heck, they’re even ignoring him and using his primary defender to double-team Devin Booker when he passes off to his fellow All-Star.
“We’re just waiting for that to go away,” Williams said of the debilitating soreness.
Seems like the Suns, including their trainers and doctors, are as much at a loss as we are. He keeps getting cleared to play after looking good in practice and getting constant rehab attention.
They don’t even have a timeframe for when he will begin to feel better for longer stretches.
“That’s the weird part about this situation,” Williams said today. “There has not been [a timeframe provided], nor do I think they can, because of the kind of hit he took. What they’ve told me is he’s ready to play and that’s all I can go off of.”
You can expect:
- the Suns to list Chris Paul (shoulder) as PROBABLE* on the injury report,
- a ‘full go’ to start the game (i.e. no game-time decision), and
- he will run the team’s first offensive set.
UPDATE: Suns listed Paul as QUESTIONABLE as of Saturday at 5:00PM
What you cannot expect, for sure, is what happens after that.
The Suns are now behind in the series (2-1), and if they lose on Sunday they run the risk of being so far behind the rest of the series will just be a formality. Though there is an example almost every year, it seems, including Denver over the Clippers last year, very few teams can come back from down 3-1 to win a series 4-3.
“There’s gonna be dramatic desperation, to be honest,” young center Deandre Ayton said on Saturday’s media session of the game on Sunday. “We know what we have to do.”
But then again, a single win on Sunday in LA can turn the entire series right back in the Suns favor.
“We win tomorrow and all the work that we put in pays off,” Williams said to his team, and then to the media.
Indeed, if the Suns win on Sunday the series will be tied 2-2 with the Suns being home for two of the last three games. All the Suns would have to do in win those home games to win the series and send the Lakers packing. That’s home court advantage, where the Suns will be inviting a near-full capacity of fans to the arena to help the Suns win.
“That’s all you can ask for,” Williams said. “Every game has a life of its own.”