Cameron Payne ready to “embrace it” with Chris Paul out for Game 3

AP Photo/David Zalubowski

Editor’s note: This article has been updated now that Chris Paul has been ruled out.

Chris Paul is out for Game 3 with a left groin strain and when Cameron Payne spoke with Paul, the veteran told Payne to “be ready.”

While Paul did not participate in the Suns’ practices this week, he and Payne have stayed on the same page.

“I know he’s doing fine,” Payne said. “We’re just gonna keep the good spirits going.”

“Grateful he didn’t tear it or something like that where he’s done for the season,” head coach Monty Williams said. “You always have to look at the bright side of tough situations…we’re just grateful it wasn’t worse than we thought.”

Williams is “optimistic” Paul will return during the postseason.

“It puts more on all of our plates,” Devin Booker said. “That’s part of playoff basketball…The teams that can sustain that and adapt…tend to do better.”

As Phoenix prepares to climb back from a 2-0 series deficit to Denver, Payne’s play will be pivotal in keeping the Suns’ hopes alive.

When Payne was asked if he’s going into Game 3 with a starter’s mentality: “For sure.”

“I’m just geeked to be out there,” Payne said. “I just gotta watch the film. Really just piggy back off the things that ‘C’ did…and add a little bit of my stuff too.”

It wouldn’t be the first time he’s had to step up in Chris Paul’s absence in the playoffs.

Payne was a huge part of Phoenix’s 2021 Finals run, checking every box while Paul was out with a shoulder injury as well as COVID-19 protocol.

“We want Cam to be Cam,” Williams said. “He has a reference point…he can rely on that and the growth that he’s made over the last two years.”

Payne will also need to connect with Suns big man Deandre Ayton if Phoenix hopes to win.

“We know how quick [Payne] is,” Ayton said. “Making sure I keep up with him. Making sure I get any misses off the rim and putting myself in positions to…maybe catch a late lob.”

Ayton will have to make adjustments guarding two-time MVP Nikola Jokić, who’s averaging almost 32 points, 18 boards, and five assists in the first two games.

“Get him to use a lot more energy,” Ayton said. “Mainly boxing out more…I was too worried about the physicality of the game & how the calls would be…now I know where I’m setting [my physicality].”

Unlike the Joker, Kevin Durant couldn’t find a rhythm in Game 2 (10/27 FG, 2/12 3FG), but according to him, it’s nothing he can’t correct.

“A lot of times I’m playing a mental game,” Durant said. “Usually when I miss shots or struggle to shoot the ball, it’s how I’m approaching the game…where are the spots on the floor where I need to be aggressive from…surveying the game and see where I fit.”

After the team’s Game 2 loss, Booker told the guys to “embrace it,” a mentality they plan to embody.

“We got to embrace what we’re dealing with,” Payne said. “This year, we’re dealing with injuries, but… we’re here…no matter what, we got a great opportunity.”

The Suns host the Nuggets in Game 3 on Friday at 7 pm.