EMPIRE OF THE SUNS

Suns ready to overcome latest obstacle after Chris Paul’s injury

May 3, 2023, 9:16 PM | Updated: May 5, 2023, 11:41 am

PHOENIX — This is nothing new for the Phoenix Suns.

“We have a reference point of overcoming in this organization,” head coach Monty Williams said after practice on Wednesday.

Chris Paul’s left groin strain is the latest bit of adversity thrown Phoenix’s way since Williams’ arrival in the Valley. In his first season, his squad had to go undefeated in the bubble to have a chance at making the postseason. We all know how that went.

That was part of Williams’ message to his team ahead of Friday’s Game 3 against the Denver Nuggets, down 2-0 in the second round.

He brought it up on a question regarding Devin Booker’s leadership and what Booker said he told the group after Game 2. Booker was asked about the confidence level of the team and he went on a tangent of sorts about how much he loves the playoffs, being able to do what they do.

“We wouldn’t be where we are today if we didn’t have Book in those moments letting everybody know before I even come in the room what we’re capable of doing,” Williams said of Booker.

“It’s just a feel,” Booker said. “It’s part of leadership, just trying to be effective in what you say and approach different people different ways. I’ve had a lot of different teammates, a lot of different coaches, so I’ve seen what works and what doesn’t. I think we have a group that everybody believes in us still and we just take it from there.”

Booker politely declined to reveal who he thinks of the most when it comes to what works in those situations but the point is that he does.

There are many teams that would lose a leader on and off the floor like Paul and be in a compromising position but Phoenix has a couple, including Booker and Williams.

As far as on the court with personnel, one of Williams’ key focus points is not to over-work Booker and Kevin Durant even more because of Paul’s absence.

More offensive-minded players out there with those two would be a change that would help with that and he brought that up.

“I can do a better job of putting more scorers on the floor and living with whatever warts that may come with that just to free those guys up so they don’t have to do it every single time down the floor,” Williams said.

As far as who that is, Williams confirmed it’s guys like Terrence Ross and T.J. Warren under consideration. Those are two mid-season additions who had some bright spots in the tail-end of the regular season but also had enough trouble defensively and within the whole flow to inspire trepidation on real playoff minutes.

Backup point guard Cam Payne had just returned to the rotation in Monday’s Game 2 loss and could be starting on Friday as well. Payne admirably filled in for Paul during the 2021 Western Conference Finals when COVID-19 kept Paul away for the first two games.

In Game 2, Payne was spectacular.

More often than not, Payne has been great as a starter too. Across 27 in the last two seasons he’s averaged 14.5 points, 7.9 assists and 2.2 turnovers per game. The last number is the most impressive, and Payne after some of those starts would still be down on himself if that number even got above two, which still would have been acceptable.

Payne confirmed he’s staying ready if he gets that starting opportunity again.

His play is so hyper that it can get off the rails sometimes, and Monday’s off night wasn’t necessarily that. He just couldn’t knock down shots, shooting 1-for-7. Some were watching and wondering why he was calling his number like that but it’s the aggressive Payne the Suns want and need.

“Obviously shoot better. Obviously see that thing go through,” Payne said on what to improve from Game 2. “Be better defensively. 50/50 balls, try to get in on those 50/50 balls a little bit more. I think we need those and that’s something I know I can bring to the table.”

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