The Phoenix Suns showed once again that they do not need CP3 to ensure victory in these playoffs, this time proving it through a tough and bloody matchup that was led by backup point guard “CP15”
Another day and yet another game where Phoenix Suns’ point guard Chris Paul was forced to remain at home in the NBA’s COVID-19 health and safety protocol, but it did not matter thanks to head coach Monty Williams and an amazing performance by Paul’s backup Cameron Payne.
Payne had a game-high, and career-high, 29 points in Game 2 against the L.A. Clippers after putting the Suns team on his shoulders like many believed Booker would do once again during Paul’s absence.
Payne went 12-24 from the field, 2-8 from the three-point line, and 75% (3-4) from the free-throw line, but when the Suns were streaking throughout the game it always seemed to be Payne leading the charge and calling the right plays, especially after All-Star Devin Booker fell into foul trouble early.
The 104-103 Suns’ victory ended very excitingly, but also rather slowly, as there were four separate reviews within the final two minutes of the game that took up almost half an hour. Ultimately, it was Jae Crowder delivering a perfect pass with 0.9 seconds to former #1 overall draft pick, Deandre Ayton (below), directly over the rim which put the Suns ahead with 0.7 seconds left.
This all came after Clippers’ SF Paul George, an 85% career free-throw shooter, missed two free throws at the line thanks to the Phoenix crowd and the extremely high volume that Phoenix Suns arena stayed at during the final quarter–something that they have been known for since the beginning of these 2021 NBA playoffs.
Now comes Game 3 where Booker and the Suns have set up the best possible opportunity for CP3 to return to when he’s finally finished recovering, not to mention they have also done everything they could to help Paul reach his first-ever NBA Finals.
Now the Suns just have to finish off the Clippers, a team who has come back from two separate 2-0 deficits so far this postseason, and they are in the Finals for the first time since 1993.
This ecstatic Game 2 had plenty of storylines to keep NBA fans satiated for the next few days: the lack of CP3 and subsequent explosion of “CP15”, the referees’ decisions late in the game, or the “Valley-oop” to finish off L.A., but the oddest news to come out of Phoenix Tuesday night was the eerily similar injury to Booker that mirrored former Suns PG Steve Nash in the 2007 playoffs (below).
How? Late in the 4th quarter, Booker’s nose was headbutted by Clippers PG Patrick Beverly, much like how Nash’s nose was smashed by the Spurs’ Tony Parker back in the semifinals of the 2007 playoffs, but eventually, Booker would return with stitches on the bridge of his swollen nose to keep the Suns’ from falling behind before eventually setting the game-winning screen for Ayton.
Now the Suns head to the Staples Center in Los Angeles with a 2-0 lead and a feeling of optimism that CP3 will return in Game 3 to help spearhead another sweep similar to their 4-0 series win over the Nuggets.
Even if Paul doesn’t return in time for Game 3 the Suns have the talent to survive another Clippers’ onslaught, plus they have history on their side considering they are 9-2 all-time in playoff series where they control a 2-0 lead.
Meanwhile, Cam Payne (hereby known as “CP15”) is obviously skilled enough to keep the Suns afloat alongside the strength of Ayton underneath, Booker from mid-range, and Crowder on the outside even if Paul is unable to come back before the Clippers’ Kawhi Leonard does.
Either way, the series is the Suns’ to lose, and with the way that Booker and Ayton have been playing (combining for 55.9% FG% in the playoffs), it’s hard to see the Clippers pulling out another miraculous series comeback as they did against Utah and Dallas.