The Phoenix Suns are just 4 wins away from their first NBA Finals appearance since 1993 when they lost to Michael Jordan’s Bulls. Just when you think they could coast into their next matchup against the Jazz or Clippers with plenty of rest, another obstacle gets in their way.
Chris Paul tested positive for COVID-19 according to multiple sources.
— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) June 16, 2021
The positive test reportedly came on Monday, which is good news in terms of the timetable for his 7-10 day return. It has also been confirmed that he (Paul) was vaccinated earlier this year and is asymptomatic, making a return early-to-mid next week plausible as long as he returns negative tests. Shams indicated in a follow-up tweet that depending on the medical circumstance, an isolation period could be shorter for a vaccinated individual.
Phoenix fans should still be rooting for the Jazz-Clippers series to go at least 7 games, though it looks less likely due to the devastating injury to end Kawhi’s season.
If I had to guess, the Jazz win in 6 games now which means Game 1 of the Conference Finals would be on Sunday in Utah. The Suns won’t update his status until Saturday, presumably the day before the game.
Just SW with a league source familiar with the NBA Covid protocol & CP3 case who confirmed this situation is as optimistic as you could hope for due to curtain medical thresholds regarding viral load. This is why the Suns are waiting until Saturday for official update
— FLEX From Jersey (@FlexFromJersey) June 16, 2021
Surviving Without Paul
IF that 7-10 day timetable holds up, you’re looking at Paul missing a minimum of 1 game, possibly 2 if the Jazz-Clippers series ends on Friday night. How can they withstand that major bump in the road?
So let’s say in Game 1 they are on the road without Chris Paul. I don’t think it’s an impossible task to win without him, but they will need people to step up. It’ll have to be a committee approach.
Step #1: Start Cameron Payne, Stagger him + Booker
This one is obvious. The Payne train will need to be going full speed (under control) in order for the Suns to win a playoff game without Chris Paul. He’s risen to the occasion when they needed him most, especially in the Lakers series. This could be his time to shine and show that he has the chops to become an eventual starter in this league.
The way I’d like to see minutes distributed to ensure they have at least one of Payne/Booker on the court at all times, with them starting and staggering:
- Payne: 6 minutes in, subs out
- Booker: 12 minutes in, subs out
- Payne: Starts 2nd with Book sitting, 10 minutes played, subs out
- Booker: Sits 5-6 minutes, finishes final 6-7 minutes.
This rotation puts them at approximately:
- ~32 minutes played for Payne
- ~36 minutes played for Booker
Fill in the gaps with E’Twaun Moore or running point Book out there in the non-Payne minutes and you can stay afloat for all 48 minutes and hopefully put your team in a position to win.
Step #2: Get Deandre Ayton involved early
Here’s where Monty and the staff will need to get creative, as the entire responsibility to both create for others and score shouldn’t fall solely on Devin Booker. One way to offset that burden will be to get the big fella involved early on often to punish their opponent for the doubles they will surely send Booker’s way.
If they can get a solid 18-20 points from Ayton and make their opponent feel him and worry about him, that’s all you can ask for. If he’s a non-factor offensively it’s going to very much be an uphill battle. It hasn’t always been about the counting numbers with him, but with Paul out that would change things at least offensively.
Step #3: Shooters Shoot
Depending on which Jae Crowder, Mikal Bridges, or Cam Johnson they get from deep will have a dramatic impact on whether or not they could steal a game or two with Paul sidelined. It’s important to note that these three simultaneously had shooting struggles when Paul wasn’t 100% healthy. While this was mainly due to how out of rhythm the offense looked due to how the Lakers defended him, it’s a noteworthy point to hit.
As you can see, I’ve focused on nearly everything but Devin Booker on here. That’s simply because in order for him to do what he needs to do for them to win, at least 2 out of the 3 steps above need to happen along with Booker going “Super Saiyan” mode. Steps 1-3 will free him up to do typical Devin Booker things.
This situation is going to present them with the opportunity for a “statement” win if they can take a game presumably on the road in a hostile environment without their leader. Sink or swim time yet again for the young Suns. How will they respond?
Here’s to hoping for the best-case scenario for Paul’s timetable that would make this article irrelevant.