PHOENIX SUNS

The Suns felt Chris Paul’s presence from afar in Game 1 against Clippers

Jun 20, 2021, 5:01 PM | Updated: 8:04 pm
Cameron Payne #15 of the Phoenix Suns dribbles against Marcus Morris Sr. #8 of the Los Angeles Clip...
Cameron Payne #15 of the Phoenix Suns dribbles against Marcus Morris Sr. #8 of the Los Angeles Clippers in the first quarter during game one of the Western Conference Finals at Phoenix Suns Arena on June 20, 2021 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

PHOENIX — Chris Paul was a FaceTime away from the Phoenix Suns minutes after Devin Booker stepped off the court, having pushed their team past the Los Angeles Clippers on Sunday.

But Paul, for the first time this season, was out of contact completely throughout the Game 1 Western Conference Finals victory.

Not that the Suns are force-sensitive like someone out of Star Wars, but it was like they could feel his presence during the series opener, which went in their favor, 120-114.

“That’s the only thing honestly today we missed, he wasn’t talking,” said Paul’s starting point guard replacement, Cameron Payne. “We ain’t have him on the bench talking today. We ain’t have him on the court talking, in the timeout talking. That’s probably the craziest thing. He talk so much, man. It’s crazy.

“To not have that voice is kind of weird.”

Though they couldn’t hear him, the Suns summoned Paul’s best qualities.

Payne played 29 minutes and recorded 11 points on 5-of-10 shooting with nine assists to a single turnover.

His plus-minus (+14) was by far the best of the Suns’ starters, with Devin Booker’s 40-point triple-double coming in at a +6 in 44 minutes of play.

As a team, Phoenix finished with 31 assists to seven turnovers, a monumental feat with Paul in COVID-19 health and safety protocols, where he remains day-to-day.

While his voice wasn’t in the huddle, the Suns’ play showed the impression he’s made since joining them in an offseason trade before the season.

That appeared, most aptly, in Booker’s performance, as he guided the Suns with timely attacking and pin-point reads of a defense trying to hide its hand.

“Every time you say ‘turnovers,’ I think of Chris,” said Booker, who finished with two turnovers and 11 assists for his first career triple-double.

“Just watching him control the game and how he just never turns the ball over; when he does, it’s a rare sighting. We knew that was going to be key for us today, is taking care of the ball with the type of defense that they play, an aggressive style defense where they gamble a lot and will reach.”

Booker and Payne entered the game on the same page.

And that, unsurprisingly, is because Paul was in their ear a bit leading up to the start of the conference finals.

Paul called Payne with a message on Saturday.

“He said the game gonna get hectic, keep your poise,” Payne said. “Be poised, get on to the next play.

“He Hall of Fame. We got to listen to him, he got the knowledge.”

With Payne in the starting lineup and the little-used E’Twaun Moore buying 11 minutes (no points, two assists and one turnover) as backup point guard, Suns head coach Monty Williams put a lot of the game management load on Booker. It allowed Payne to keep his attacking mindset that’s made him a bench booster this entire playoff run.

Booker slid to the point surrounded by center Deandre Ayton, plus wings Mikal Bridges, Cam Johnson and Jae Crowder down the stretch of the fourth quarter.

Though the Suns carried a two- or three-possession lead for much of the final three minutes, that, according to Crowder, was the only time Phoenix may have felt like Paul’s absence left a noticeable gulf.

Not that they were devaluing the absence of an All-NBA player and future Hall of Famer, who Booker couldn’t wait to call as he walked off the floor. It’s just that the Suns felt like everything he’s preached to them all year came naturally as he watched from afar.

“We definitely missed him,” Crowder said. “I think, the last three minutes of that game, that’s when we felt like ‘hey, where the hell is Chris at?'”

Somewhere, he was smiling.

Phoenix Suns

Credit: @cedceballos / Twitter...
Nicholas Hodell

Former Suns F Cedric Ceballos says he is COVID-19 free, but still in ICU

Former NBA player Cedric Ceballos tweeted on Sunday that he is COVID-19 free, but also that he is still recovering in an intensive care unit.
4 days ago
Photo by luiscolato.com...
Associated Press

Tech data shows Arizona’s busy sports gambling activity

"Arizona ... had more wagered online than mature states like Michigan, Colorado and Tennessee at the FanDuel Sportsbook,” a spokesman said.
5 days ago
Images of the FanDuel sportsbook inside Footprint Center. (Photo by luiscolato.com)...
Associated Press

What to know as legal sports gambling begins in Arizona

Which in-person betting services are open Thursday? What other sportsbooks are still coming? And how did Arizona get here?
9 days ago
Photo by luiscolato.com...
Arizona Sports

Suns release images of FanDuel sportsbook at Footprint Center as betting opens in Arizona

See pictures inside the Phoenix Suns FanDuel Sportsbook at Footprint Center. Legalized betting opens in Arizona on Thursday, Sept. 9, 2021.
9 days ago
...
Arizona Sports

Suns G Devin Booker featured on Kicks Magazine cover

Devin Booker studies the details. And in reading the featured story for SLAM's latest edition of KICKS Magazine, fans can get a sense of that.
10 days ago
United States' Javale McGee takes a rest during a men's basketball practice at the Tokyo 2020 Olymp...
Kellan Olson

JaVale McGee visualized himself on Suns while watching NBA Finals

Phoenix Suns center JaVale McGee was at a Finals game in Phoenix and was able to see where he could potentially play a role.
10 days ago
The Suns felt Chris Paul’s presence from afar in Game 1 against Clippers