The Bubble Suns surprised last year. Today, we have to say hello to these Suns of the Playoffs.
After trailing 2-1 to the Los Angeles Lakers in the first round, the Phoenix Suns have won eight straight playoff games, the longest streak in franchise history and the longest for any team since the Los Angeles Lakers. 2017 Golden State Warriors, who opened the playoffs 15-0. They won the first game of the Western Finals without Chris Paul, who joined the team via FaceTime in the locker room after the game.
Those eight wins equal the Suns’ total from last season’s bubble in Lake Buena Vista, Florida, where Devin Booker & Company gave the entire NBA a heads-up. Now, following their win over the LA Clippers, they are just three wins away from reaching the NBA Finals for the first time since 1993. But even with Kawhi Leonard out of the game, be aware that Paul George will not walk away without a fight. .
Playing in the first conference finals game in Clippers history, George finished with 34 points, looking like the player who led the Indiana Pacers to back-to-back conference finals appearances in 2013 and 2014. His performance was just one. Of things that got the attention of our NBA experts in Game 1. Here’s what caught their eye and what it means for the series going forward.
Booker has what it takes to become a legend
Remember when Booker’s lack of playoff experience came up in conversations about whether the Suns could be contenders?
Lesson learned: You should never question the genius of a star who comes to the games driving one of the cars in his collection.
Booker has been brilliant throughout the postseason. His performance in Game 1, when Phoenix needed him to fill the leadership void created by Chris Paul’s absence, was his best yet. Booker delivered the first triple-double of his career with 40 points, 13 rebounds and 11 assists, and no one can (and should not) claim that it was empty statistics, something that was a ridiculous blow that he received unfairly during his days putting great numbers. on bad teams.
Booker scored or assisted in 43 of Phoenix’s final 50 points. That included all points during the critical stretch of the game, an 8-0 tiebreaker streak early in the fourth quarter. He also took the defensive rebound before three of those baskets for the Suns. He scored twice in that stretch, hitting a triple and working his way to a mid-range jump shot after taking advantage of a screen. But his most impressive play was when he fumbled off a long bounce, ran the transition and found Cameron Payne to score an open triple.
It took Booker six years to reach the playoff stage with the Suns. But it can be assured that the wait was worth it.
– Tim MacMahon
Don’t think of Paul George as a Robin
In the first four games of the Clippers’ Western Conference semifinal matchup against the Jazz, Leonard averaged 27.3 points, 7.5 rebounds and 4.0 assists. It may come as a surprise to learn that in those same four games, George had almost exactly the same averages: 27.3 points, 8.0 rebounds and 4.3 assists. This highlighted an interesting dynamic about the Clippers: They are not led by a traditional “Batman and Robin” duo. No, they have a pair of “Batman”.
As such, with Leonard out of the game with a knee injury that has kept him out of the last three games, the Clippers are not facing replacing their primary option. Instead, they are really replacing the secondary production George usually provides. Against the Jazz, they manufactured that production from their perimeter shooters playing with low, fast formations, taking advantage of Rudy Gobert’s lack of mobility. The Suns don’t have that particular weakness, so even though George scored 34 points, the Clippers didn’t get enough of those peripheral players to win.
Going forward, potentially even without Leonard, the Clippers don’t need to worry as much about George as the ultimate referent and command of the ship, as he has shown he will be fine. Instead, the question is whether Terance Mann, Reggie Jackson, or one of the others can be a consistent and effective Robin. That is the big question.
– Andre ‘Snellings
Tyronn Lue modifies his rotations
Facing a quick change from knocking out the Utah Jazz on Friday night to opening the Western Conference finals in Phoenix on Sunday afternoon, Clippers coach Tyronn Lue planned to expand his rotation, even before his hand was forced by knee pain that limited Marcus Morris’s minutes after halftime.
By the end of the Clippers’ first two series, Lue had almost completely abandoned the use of traditional crosses. But the Suns have Deandre Ayton, which makes size a more favorable option for them in this matchup. Ivica Zubac started the second half in place of Morris and DeMarcus Cousins came off the bench in both halves, using his size advantage against Phoenix backup Dario Saric. The Clippers closed out with a small formation during the final 5:44 of the game.
As he has during the playoffs, Lue is sure to reduce his rotation as the series evolves. Cousins may cause problems for Saric, but the Clippers must limit his minutes against Ayton, who is a good fit physically with the Clippers veteran. Separating Cousins from backup guard Luke Kennard, who was out of the rotation after halftime, will also help the Clippers shore up the second unit on defense. And despite his seven assists in 22 minutes, Rajon Rondo may not offer enough to justify a key role. The Clippers were outscored 14 points with Rondo on the court.
– Kevin Pelton
Deandre Ayton makes a big difference
If Ayton was thought to be as ineffective as Gobert was against the LA Clippers, it took little time to scrap that idea.
As the strongest inside scorer, Ayton quickly racked up seven conversions and 14 points in the first half of the game, on his way to finishing with 20 points and nine rebounds in 37 minutes. While he may not be completely comfortable in sets where the Clippers are running with five perimeter players, he is fast enough for opponents to find a weakness in his game.
Ayton’s performances in both the first round against Los Angeles Lakers star Anthony Davis (before injury) and in the conference semifinals against league MVP Nikola Jokic were revealing. In those matches he showed that he is more than capable of making a difference in the playoffs, a difficult obstacle for the big men to overcome in this day and age. That gives the Suns another reason to feel confident in their chances of advancing to the NBA Finals for the first time since 1993.
– Tim Bontemps
Cameron Payne was prepared for this moment
The performance should feel even sweeter for Payne, who fought in five disappointing seasons with the Oklahoma City Thunder and Chicago Bulls, but who has changed the narrative of his career since signing with Phoenix just before the season restarted in the bubble a year ago. Payne shot 44% from beyond the arc during the regular season and found a niche for himself on a team that is three wins away from a spot in the NBA Finals.
His dedication has been evident throughout the past year as he played his way back from China to the G League to carve out a consistent role in a title contender. His ability to produce in Paul’s absence will continue to gain validation from many in the league who previously questioned whether he could play at this level.
– Nick Friedell