DAN BICKLEY

Chris Paul’s injury threatens playoff viability of Phoenix Suns

May 25, 2021, 10:49 PM
Chris Paul #3 of the Phoenix Suns sits on the bench before Game Two of the Western Conference first...
Chris Paul #3 of the Phoenix Suns sits on the bench before Game Two of the Western Conference first-round playoff series against the Los Angeles Lakers at Phoenix Suns Arena on May 25, 2021 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Just 58 seconds into Game 2, Jae Crowder absorbed a vicious, dirty kick to the groin.

By the end of the night, we all knew the feeling.

Welcome to our worst nightmare: Home-court advantage surrendered. A night when Chris Paul’s injury looked and felt far more serious than just a stinger. A game when the Lakers’ frontline was the advantage we all feared.

“We had our chances,” Suns head coach Monty Williams said via Zoom postgame.

If you’re looking for silver linings, the Suns again proved their resilience on Tuesday. Cam Payne electrified his team and ignited the crowd. Deandre Ayton played 42 minutes of elite, forceful basketball. Devin Booker scored 31 points and made all 17 free throw attempts. And for a hot minute, it felt like the Suns were going to climb out of the quicksand with a victory.

These Suns are clearly different from some of the high-flying finesse teams that broke our hearts in the past, the ones that rarely played a lick of defense. These Suns are tougher than a truck stop T-bone. They are a team full of hardcore ballers who feel right at home inside an ugly, physical, chirpy game. They’re constructed on true grit, built for playoff success.

But this time, LeBron James made a couple of huge shots. The Suns squandered their momentum with a series of disastrous offensive possessions and defensive lapses. Just like that, the series was tied.

Nothing has been lost. These Lakers just aren’t that formidable at the moment. They don’t shoot well. Anthony Davis is inconsistent. James is clearly marginalized by a recent ankle injury.

Problem is, the Suns have bigger issues. Paul played only 23 minutes and spent most of the second half on the bench.

“I took him out,” Williams said. “It was all me, just looking at him hold his arm the way he was holding it. I just couldn’t watch him run like that. He’s trying to make plays. He battled. He’s a warrior. We all know that. I just made a decision to take him out.”

During the game, an ex-NFL team doctor tweeted out that the Kinesio tape Paul was wearing on his right arm was more consistent with shoulder subluxation and labral injury. That spells trouble for the rest of the postseason.

“It’s pretty obvious,” Williams said. “He’s not able to make the passes he wants. He was laboring tonight.”

Paul’s injury threatens the playoff viability of the Suns, a team that must find a way to win one of the next two games in Los Angeles. It might join Joe Johnson’s broken orbital bone and Robert Horry’s hip check as testaments to our playoff misfortune.

“At all times, we miss him,” Booker said. “It’s going to be tough but we all have to step up.”

“It’s difficult. But we have enough to get the job done,” Crowder added.

The other issue was far more predictable.

General manager James Jones chose not to address frontcourt depth at the NBA trade deadline, even though it was a potential pitfall in a series against the Lakers.

On Tuesday, size mattered. James, Davis and Andre Drummond combined for 72 points and 26 rebounds. Marc Gasol drained a huge three-point shot.

Meanwhile, the Suns struggled for answers, with Crowder picking up three fouls in his first four minutes of action and Dario Saric forgetting how to play basketball. The return of Cam Johnson has diminished Torrey Craig’s role, and that’s not necessarily a good thing.

An old NBA adage says a playoff series doesn’t begin until the road team wins a game. Well, this one has definitely begun.

And with the tenuous status of their Hall of Fame point guard, the Suns are going to have to dig deep to find some answers.

Penguin Air

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