And just like that, the Western Conference Finals are here. After an exciting first couple rounds of action and matchups we finally have our two top dogs of the conference: the Suns and Clippers. Both teams have a huge question mark on their star players, with the status up in the air for both Chris Paul and Kawhi Leonard. No matter the outcome, this series is sure to be an electric one.
Suns (2) vs (4) Clippers
The Suns have been a surprising team up to this point, knocking off the defending champions in the first round, and bouncing this year’s MVP and his Nuggets in 4. They are a young squad with great veterans around them and to call them exciting to watch would be an understatement. The Clippers have been under a lot of scrutiny in past playoffs, and even in this year’s installment. They went down 0-2 to both the Mavs and Jazz, before coming back to even the series and finish them off victorious. Missing Kawhi in a pivotal game 6 against the Jazz, we saw what the rest of the team is made of. In the regular season, it was the Clippers who won the season series against Phoenix 2-1. This is just the second playoff series between these two teams, with Phoenix winning the only other one 4-3 in 2006. With both teams fighting for their first ever championship, it shouldn’t be a lopsided win for anyone.
The absence of Chris Paul was felt for Phoenix before in these playoffs. The first couple of games in the Lakers series were tough for Phoenix as they were missing their leader due to a shoulder injury. Now, he is on the NBA health and safety list for testing positive for Covid and is set to miss game 1 and who knows how much more. He has averaged over 15 points with 8 assists and a steal in 10 playoff games so far. In the series versus Denver, he averaged 25 points and 10 assists. For the Suns, it’s next man up, but how much pressure can they handle and how well can they play as a team without their floor general.
For the Suns, they need to continue to ride Booker’s hot hand. In 10 games, Booker has averaged 27.9 points, 6.8 rebounds, 4.8 assists on 48% shooting. Cameron Payne also has to step up like in the Lakers series when Paul was battling injury and played a lot of empty minutes. Payne averaged over 12 points but averaged a steal and a block as well, shooting 42% from 3. Defensively, Crowder has to do well on both the perimeter and interior. Bridges proved his defense is elite, but also can score the 3 well and get hot fast. Ayton has to get hot like he did in the Lakers series, by intimidating shooters inside and scoring near the rim at will. The home crowd should be electric, but the Suns need to be fired up as a team to gain momentum back after being out of action for a while.
Los Angeles Clippers
The Clippers are in a similar hole as the Suns, with Kawhi out with a knee injury that can potentially be season-ending. Before the injury, the Klaw was giving the Clippers a HUGE boost in the playoffs. Leonard averaged 30 points, 7.7 boards, 4.4 assists, and 2.1 steals on 57% shooting through 11 games for LA this postseason. His defensive tenacity is unmatched by anyone on the team and his offensive production, especially in pivotal games where the Clippers needed a win when they were down 0-2. Without him, they came back down 22 in game 6 to win the series. If they can continue to have performances like that is a question that remains unanswered.
Players like Reggie Jackson and Terance Mann have to step up yet again if the Clippers want to go toe-to-toe with Phoenix. Jackson played an excellent series against Utah averaging over 18 points, 4 assists, and a steal on 58% shooting and 50% from 3. He played gritty basketball and was a bright spot for the Clippers when they needed another scorer. Mann is coming off one of the best playoff performances from a non-superstar, scoring 39 points on 71% shooting and 70% from 3. For a guy averaging 7 points in these playoffs, that kind of game is something you want to see if you’re a Clippers fan. Paul George is going to carry a majority of the load, and he still has a lot to prove to finally stop all the hate and memes he gets. So far, he’s averaging 26 points a game to go with 9 boards and 5 assists. He needs to lock in on both sides of the court and he needs help from the next guys up. Trying to make up for what Kawhi gave them is going to be a hard task, but I like what we saw in game 6.
Out of all series so far, this one is definitely the toughest matchup to call. Both teams are missing HUGE players, and although we’ve seen the Suns play well without Paul when he was injured, how will it affect them from the start of a series? The Clippers only played without Kawhi once, and what a game they had. But the sample size isn’t there to really tell if they can fare well without him for a whole series, if in fact he is out that long. I have Phoenix pulling this one out thanks to Booker and his insane tear in these playoffs, and hopefully with Chris Paul back sometime during the series. Should the Suns win this one the way they have the past 2 series, I really think they have a huge chance at the title. With the way the East has been so close, I like the Suns as a TEAM more than any other one. Suns in 6.