The Western Conference Finals kicked off on Sunday afternoon with the Phoenix Suns defeating the Los Angeles Clippers by a score of 120-114 in Game 1. There was plenty of star power in the game as Devin Booker and Paul George exchanged shot after epic shot during a memorable third quarter. Deandre Ayton dunked on the Clippers and his critics more times than I care to count. Reggie Jackson poured in buckets with and proved to be a viable threat.
Missing from the game, however, were two of the best 10 players in the NBA. All-NBA First Team recipient Kawhi Leonard (knee) and All-NBA Second Teamer Chris Paul (health and safety protocols) were not even in the building for the affair. Both teams had to make appropriate adjustments to compensate for their absence.
The adjustment that Monty Williams chose to go with in Game 1 was the “next man up” philosophy as he placed Cameron Payne in the starting lineup. Payne has earned the start with his play throughout the 2021 NBA Playoff run. He averaged 10.2 points in 20.4 minutes through the first 10 games of the postseason and was a valuable piece of their success.
Cam Payne said he didn't know he was going to start until yesterday with Chris Paul out. "I'm just gonna hold it down until C's back. That's still my mindset. Just hold it down until my man get back."— Gerald Bourguet (@GeraldBourguet) June 20, 2021
“It was actually fun,” Payne said of getting the start. “The atmosphere was crazy. I really just feel like I miss playing. We took a long little break, and it just felt good being out there, back there on the court and getting the [W]. Still praying for C, hopefully we can get him back as soon as possible. But I’m glad we got that [W] for him, and just looking forward to getting him back.”
Bumping Payne to the starting unit opened the spot up for the backup point guard role. Monty put his faith in E’Twaun Moore in Game 1. Based on what we saw on Sunday, I believe those minutes should go to Jevon Carter moving forward.
All of the following is predicated on the health of Chris Paul. We still do not know if he will have the ability to suit up and play in Game 2. The health and safety protocols he is currently following has him listed as day-to-day. But if he is to miss Game 2, the Suns will need to have someone who can effectively spell the minutes vacated by Cameron Payne on the second team unit.
Moore didn’t have a horrible game by any means. He played 10:44 minutes, went 0-of-1 from the field, had two assists and one steal. Moore did log a turnover — on his first possession after entering the game — and a personal foul as well. He filled the role that was asked of him and his team won the game. You can’t dog the guy for stepping up to the plate and performing the way he did.
Overall, here is how the flow of the game went relative to plus/minus. Note the E’Twaun Moore minutes.
While Moore was effective in his first rotation in the first quarter, adjustments were made prior to his reentry in the second. Clippers head coach Ty Lue was ready for Moore the next time he stepped on the court, knowing that Moore’s defensive prowess was something that could be taken advantage of.
With Kawhi Leonard out, it was clear that Lue was looking to attack any mismatches he could in an effort to generate offense for his team. We saw this when he deployed DeMarcus Cousins against Dario Saric.
His solution for E’Twaun Moore was Reggie Jackson.
The first play of Moore’s second rotation into the lineup? Reggie Jackson using his quickness to drive right by him for an easy layup.
The adjustment had been executed flawlessly. Jackson has filled the role as a primary scoring option this postseason for the Clippers, averaging 17.1 points on 50.6/42.3/92.3 splits through 14 games in the playoffs. It was his addition to the starting lineup against the Dallas Mavericks in the Western Conference First Round series that changed the tide for Los Angeles.
The next time down the floor Reggie Jackson took advantage of a weak rotation by Moore and once again used his agility and speed to beat him to the rim.
After all was said and done, in the 0:38 minutes of playing time matched up with Reggie Jackson and 2.8 partial possessions, Reggie put 7 points on Moore and the team scored a total of 9. That is a boatload of points in a small amount of time. Couple that with the fact that E’Twaun was practically a zero on offense and yeah, something needs to change. If not, Ty Lue and the Clippers will exploit that matchup until Chris Paul can play again.
This is where this adjustment needs to be made for the Suns. Monty Williams has a better defensive option sitting on his bench in Jevon Carter. His lateral quickness and ability to recover on defense is a better matchup solution for the Suns when Reggie Jackson attempts to be the focal point of the offense.
During the regular season Jevon Carter was a much more valuable asset on the court. While Moore played in 27 games, Carter played in 60 for Monty Williams. By every advanced metric, Carter was the better play.
The key to Jevon Carter’s success defensively is his affinity to pick up a guy full court and make him work on every possession. Nicolas Batum was deploying that exact strategy against Cameron Payne in Game 1. Does it stop the opponent from scoring? Not always. But it does tire them out, mentally and physically.
When you are tired you can get lazy and when you get lazy, you commit fouls. Cameron Payne had to be pulled from the game with 5:24 minutes left as he collected his fifth foul. I am not saying this directly due to the full court pressure Batum had been putting on him all game, but it is a contributing factor.
The flip side of this argument is that, due to his size, the Clipper will switch out of any Reggie vs. Jevon matchups, which is valid. The strength of the Clippers offense is their five-out approach. Having the 6’1” Carter in the game could create an opportunity for Los Angeles to exploit. Which would create another adjustment for the Suns. That being said, I still would prefer to see Carter having to guard Jackson over Moore.
Carter also creates more of an opportunity to generate isolation offense. He is a three-point shooter. I guess he is a mini-3-and-D guy come to think of it. Jevon shot 38.1% from deep this season. He is 1-of-7 in 18 minutes played in the postseason, most of which have occurred in garbage time victories.
The solution for all of this is having Chris Paul back in the starting lineup and returning to the rotations that allowed the Suns to be successful throughout this postseason run. I would not be surprised to see Carter’s number pulled during this series, however, to assist in trying to slow down Reggie Jackson.
Let the adjustments begin...