With game one of the Western Conference Finals just one night away, Phoenix Suns point guard Chris Paul has yet to be released from COVID-19 health and safety protocols.
The announcement, which came on Wednesday, has left many to wonder how long Paul could possibly be out of the lineup. Last series against the Denver Nuggets, the Phoenix MVP candidate averaged a double-double with 25.5 points and 10.3 assists per game.
In more ways than one, he is crucial to the Suns success and chances of advancing to the NBA Finals. With Clippers star Kawhi Leonard sidelined with a knee injury on the other side for Los Angeles, game one could see some interesting names step up in a big way for both sides.
Even with Paul isolated from the team, head coach Monty Williams has been in constant contact with him and they have been discussing different game plans during this time watching this past week’s Clippers and Jazz games.
“We talk about strategy and last night, we were watching the game together and talking at the same time about what we saw,” Williams said. “…It’s a basketball conversation, but that’s no different than my conversations with Chris for the last 11 years. He’s always been that way.”
With CP3’s absence, the likely candidate to step in at the point guard position would be guard Cameron Payne. Payne, who has thrived in his role coming off the bench this postseason, has revitalized his career after being out of the league for a short period of time.
Because of his background and how he’s been playing, teammates expect nothing to fall off even with Paul’s possible absence.
“Usually somebody is put in that situation and becomes a little hesitant, but that’s not how he plays,” said guard Devin Booker of Payne. “Even in a short time when he’s coming off the bench during the season, he’s already ready to go…He’s not scared to make mistakes out there and that’s the type of confidence you need to win these types of basketball games. Everybody on the court, one through five, has to be a threat and he’s definitely a threat.”
As game one gets closer, Paul’s presence continues to loom over the Suns, even if he’s not in the gym with them. It’s tough to keep the future Hall of Fame point guard away from the game. He’s been calling teammates and coaches non-stop about strategy and ways to scheme against the Clippers.
It will take a full team effort tomorrow for the Suns to pull out a win on their home floor, but the depth of this year’s group has been very evident in both rounds of the playoffs thus far. They’ll look to use that collective, next man up mindset going into tomorrow’s atmosphere.
“He (Paul) called me at halftime of the game last night (Jazz-Clippers). He’s just always thinking, and thinking ahead,” said Suns forward Jae Crowder. “His main focus is just our mindset going into the game. Obviously, we’re down a soldier and we got to get it done collectively. That’s the message that we’re reiterating amongst one another is to just get the job done collectively and pick the slack up of one of our leaders. He’s doing a good job communicating and he’s eager to get back with us, but he’s still locked in to what has to get accomplished on this side and he’s doing a good job of relaying the message to me, Book, and the rest of the team. He’s still with us.”
Tip-off for game one of the Western Conference Finals is set for tomorrow at 12:30 local time.