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WCF Game Preview: Can the Suns go up 2-0 without Chris Paul?

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Phoenix Suns host the LA Clippers in Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals

Los Angeles Clippers v Phoenix Suns - Game One Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

What: LA Clippers at Phoenix Suns, Game 2, Western Conference Finals (Suns lead 1-0)

When: Tuesday, 6:00 PM

Where: Phoenix Suns Arena

Watch: Bally Sports Arizona and ESPN

Listen: 98.7 FM

Betting Line: Suns favored by 5 points as of Tuedsay morning... Check the latest odds here


The Western Conference Playoffs continues today with Game 2 between the Phoenix Suns and the Los Angeles Clippers.

The Suns won Game 1, 120-114, behind All-Star Devin Booker’s 40-point triple double — only the second such game in Phoenix Suns playoff history (Charles Barkley, 1993). Booker became only the 9th player in league history to record a 40+/10+/10+ game in the playoffs.

The Suns have now won 8 straight games — the longest of the season for this team, and the longest EVER for a Suns playoff team in the franchise’s 54-year history (including 30 playoff runs). This 8-game playoff streak is the longest since 2017 when the Warriors reeled off 15 straight. Reminder: it only takes 16 to win a title.

The Clippers stayed close with their incredible three-point shooting, making 20 three-pointers in Sunday’s loss. That was the Clippers second straight 20-three postseason game (only 3rd team in league history to do so) and 5th straight postseason game with 15+ threes (4th team in league history).

Now we are on to Game 2 with the same cast of characters as Sunday’s game. The Suns want to repeat their game plan on offense while increasing the resistance to Clippers star Paul George, while the Clippers will want to ramp up their energy on defense to make their shooting the difference in a win. The Clippers will be well-rested this time, after coming in tired on Sunday from their epic comeback win in the second round.


Injured/out (primary rotation players only)

Suns — Chris Paul is OUT (health and safety protocols); day to day

Clippers — Kawhi Leonard is OUT (knee, suspected ACL injury); day to day


Probable Starting Lineups

Payne played well in Paul’s absence (11 points, 9 assists, only 1 turnover).

Terance Mann had an epic offensive explosion (39 points) in the Clippers close-out game over the Jazz in Leonard’s absence.


Clippers Update

For one thing, they won’t be tired this time. In Game 1 on Sunday, the Clippers were running on fumes after a high-energy win over the Jazz on Friday night to come back from a 25-point third quarter deficit to the Jazz at home. They outscored the Jazz 81-47 in the second half alone! Their tired legs resulted in defensive breakdowns in the 4th quarter.

They also played 11 guys in Game 1, a Ty Lue pattern to get guys rest early in the series so they put out maximum effort in the closeout games. Twice the Clippers have gone down 0-2 to start a series and have won 8 of 9 total games after that. Watch out for how deep Lue will go into his bench this time, to get an idea how badly he wants to win this game.

Paul George is living his best life these days. He’s been excellent in the playoffs and now gets to face the team he loves to play the very most. In four games against the Suns this year, George has made 7 three-pointers in THREE of them, shooting better than 50% overall from deep against the Suns on high volume. As the series wears on, I am highly curious how PG does against the cadre of wing defenders.

Marcus Morris may or may not be hurting (left knee). He played only 21 minutes on Sunday in Game 1, but is not listed on any injury report. Morris has become the Clippers second-leading scorer with Leonard out, so they will need him to perform well if they’re going to beat the Suns.


Suns Update

Can the Phoenix Suns protect home court again without their leader and point guard, Chris Paul?

Cameron Payne was his herky-jerky self in Game 1 in a starting role. He looked sometimes out of control, but his final stat line was excellent: 11 points (5-10 shooting), 9 assists, 1 turnover. I am so excited that we are living in the House of Payne in the Western Conference Finals — such a climb from being dumped from the NBA, dumped from the Chinese league and stuck in G-League purgatory.

The big problem is his backup. Who will play the non-Payne minutes? Our own John Voita has a good idea, but I think E’Twaun Moore will get the nod again because of his NBA and playoffs experience and I think Moore will look better in his second game than he did on Sunday.

To protect home court and take a 2-0 lead in the series, every single one of the Suns will need to step up again like they did on Sunday and basically this whole playoffs.

My things to watch:

  • How many shots is Jae Crowder gonna make? BOSSMAN99 seems to either make every shot or miss every shot. After starting the playoffs 2/20 on threes (10%) through game 3, he’s made a whopping 49% of his threes over the last 9 games including 5-for-10 on the first game of this series
  • How many shots will the non-Ayton centers make? I’m highly curious how many minutes Dario Saric and even Frank Kaminsky play, and how effective they will be. I expect the Dario/Frank minutes will depend on how much small or big the Clippers go. On Sunday, Lue played centers Ivica Zubac and DeMarcus Cousins for 31.5 minutes, including a lot of time when Deandre Ayton was resting. The non-Ayton centers combined for 22 points (20 for Clips, 2 for Suns). I’d be very very surprised if that ever happens again this series.
  • How many minutes will the Suns starters play? Without CP, the Suns are having to balance whether to just give CP’s minutes to the rest of the starters versus giving those minutes to the 8th+ guy in the active rotation. I’d expect we see more minutes from the starters rather than the other option.
  • How big is Ayton Island? The Clippers won their series over the Jazz by isolating and exploiting Rudy Gobert’s instincts to stay close to the paint. I see Ty Lue trying very hard to switch/switch/switch Ayton into space to try to take advantage of his size/weight ratio against a smaller player who can shoot over the top or drive past him.

Read more on adjustments each team can make for Game 2 here:


The Bright Side

Have you seen this article penned by our own Deandre Ayton? He goes through the last year in Suns basketball with the lightest of hearts and brightest of eyes, and he’s coming out the other side as one of the best players on the planet, on one of the best teams on the planet.

“We’re not just swimming with the sharks out here. We’re the sharks.”

And this story that tells you everything you need to know about DA and the rest of the guys, how they interact, how they don’t let each other get away with any nonsense.

“We’ve got a team full of damn trolls. And anyone is liable to get trolled at any moment.”

Read this: We Dem Boyz


Prediction

Well, one betting line has the Suns as a 5-point favorite, so let’s go with that.

Suns should win. Let’s say 125-120.