But Chris Paul is the story.
Or should I say, Chris Paul’s shoulder is history. They call it a bruise, but whatever you call it. What matters is that Paul is essentially playing with one arm. He looked like a smidge more capable with the right hand on Tuesday than he did after the injury of the first game, when he could barely keep control of the ball, but not by much. He only took five shots. Scored six points. Played only 23 minutes. Paul is one of the best clutch players in the world, and Monty Williams couldn’t even afford to have him in the game to close the fourth quarter.
Somehow, the Suns were still there. It’s an honor to Devin Booker, who had a bad night on the shoot but made his way through 31 points on 17 of 17 free throws. The props of Cameron Payne, who had 19 points and seven assists and who looked, dare I say, quite Paul-esque in times of crisis. Deandre Ayton is coming of age before our eyes. He finished with 22 points on Tuesday and made 21 of his 24 shots in that series.
Phoenix can still win this series, even though it feels like the Lakers struggled against the momentum on their way home. Maybe Paul will make some significant progress by Thursday, or at least by Game 4 on Saturday. But at this point, it’s hard not to qualify most of the analysis relating to this series with the actual absence of one of the league’s most valuable players.
The Lakers played championship defense on Tuesday, but it was surely an effort facilitated by Paul’s limitations. When Paul was on the floor, the Lakers had the luxury of ignoring him as a goal scorer / playmaker. They got a major contribution from Andre Drummond, who would, under normal circumstances, be an exploitable pick target. -and-roll by Paul. They were able to overtake Booker, who looked out of sync as he tried to take on Paul’s normal half-court initiator role.
For the life of me, I can’t understand why the Lakers don’t take extreme measures to force Paul just when he has the ball. To be fair, they often shadow it on the left, which is the only way for him to really take his dribble right now. They better let Paul help the other Suns penetrators and shooters, or not quit their missions to help Paul on Tuesday than they were in Game 1, but you could still say they’re taking the things slowly. Paul, who is nonetheless a shell of his normal being.
It stinks. There is no other way to tell. Paul’s post-season injury chance, or lack thereof, has ventured into the realm of cruelty. Over the course of his career, Paul suffered a playoff injury that either severely limited his abilities or wiped him out four times. The worst was in the 2018 Western Conference Finals, when he tore his hamstrings at the end of Game 5 and was forced to miss Games 6 and 7. The Rockets lost these. matches, wasting their 3-2 lead and Paul’s best shot at a Title.
This season Paul and the Suns had an extraordinary campaign, but the virus bit Paul again. It’s brutal, but it’s the card he and the Suns got. We’re all hoping Paul’s condition improves before the show is gone, but right now it doesn’t look good. Unless you are a Lakers fan.