The Suns are up 3-1 in the Western Conference Finals, but if I were a Suns fan I would be panicking. Like right this second, PANIC! Now that you’re done freaking out you can relax because the Suns have Devin Booker. Hold on, Booker is shooting 30% since game 2, and 13% from three. PANIC! Now that you’re done freaking out for the second time you can relax again because at least you have Deandre Ayton. Ayton is shooting a stellar 69% from the field and averaging 13 rebounds a game. If the Suns do end up advancing Cliff (yeah you read that right) Paul better buy Ayton a mansion to show his appreciation. Here’s what the Suns need to do to win the series:
The Suns have the Clippers by the neck, but this Clippers team has come back from series deficits before. And if Cliff Paul wants his legacy to be cemented as one of the greatest point guards in the playoffs and regular season he has to close this series out. That means he has to know when to stop shooting. There’s no shame in realizing your faults and playing the role of the nucleus of the offense like Bill Russell used to do. I know what you’re saying, “Chris Paul is the nucleus of the offense”. But right now I don’t know what the Suns are doing offensively, and if Cliff Paul doesn’t start playing the role as a pass-first point guard, the Clippers will come back and win this series.
Bill Russell is one of the greatest players of all time, and what most people don’t realize is he was a great passer. Russell was also the third or fourth option on offense most of the time, back when Bob Cousy was in his prime Russell was the fifth option on offense. Cliff Paul has to realize that he is not shooting well since he came back from isolation, and needs to pass more. 7 assists isn’t going to cut it, 12 or 13 will. I don’t want to see Cliff Paul shoot the ball more than 10 times during game 5, I want him to force-feed Booker until he gets hot and lob the ball to Ayton on pick and rolls.
Control the pace
This is the key to winning the series, controlling the pace. Cliff Paul doesn’t do well when the game is fast-paced, the Clippers do. The Clippers thrive when games are moving fast and everything is hectic. When they’re throwing up catch and shoot threes off a fastbreak, when the fans are going crazy for them, and when Terance Mann makes a heat check three, that’s how the Clippers like to play. Cliff Paul is the exact opposite. Think of it this way, Cliff Paul is like the movie Barry Lyndon very slow-paced, but still fun. The Clippers are the movie Speed, everything is fast and crazy, just the way they like it.
Monty Williams has to make sure right out of the gate that the Clippers don’t control the pace because we all know Cliff Paul’s track record in the playoffs. Ty Lue has done a great job with this Clippers team taking them to their first-ever Conference Finals, but will he be smart enough to exploit Cliff Paul’s need for a slow pace?
Get Deandre Ayton involved
It is bewildering to me why Deandre Ayton isn’t involved more offensively. During this series he’s the only Suns player doing well, if Ayton was out or wasn’t playing on the level he’s been playing on the Clippers would be the team up 3-1. He had nine offensive rebounds, NINE! The Suns don’t win game 4 if it wasn’t for those offensive rebounds. Ayton is slowly becoming one of the best pick and roll centers in the game, he’s also proved that he is a great rebounder, and is a great shot blocker. Ayton might be a top 25 player in this league by next season. Deandre has consistently given 15+ points a game, and 10+ rebounds during the playoffs. Ayton deserves some respect from the league and from his coach. If Ayton isn’t heavily involved on offense in game 5 the Clippers will win and make it a series.
Make Paul George win the game
We all know Paul George isn’t the most clutch guy to ever walk on the court, and we all know that he has come up short in the playoffs during clutch situations. George would average 15 points a game if the refs didn’t give him every call imaginable, so don’t overplay him. Let PG drive into Ayton and try to make a contested layup. Make George work for his points, eventually, he will get frustrated and start chucking up ridiculous shots. If the game comes down to Paul George having to make the game-winner he won’t succeed, neither will Reggie Jackson or Terance Mann. PG can’t win a game by himself, but the Suns have to make him believe that he can win a game by himself. If they make George shoot the ball 25 times, play him correctly, and don’t foul him, the Suns will be waiting for either the Hawks or Bucks in the Finals.
The Suns have the lead in the series, but if history is any indicator the Clippers still have a shot at coming back. If Cliff Paul turns back into Chris Paul the Suns will win in 5, but if Cliff Paul stays the Clippers will make the series interesting. Booker has to shoot better and so do the other role players like Jae Crowder and Cameron Payne. Ayton has to continue his stellar play, and most importantly there has to be no signature moment that swings the favor back over to the Clippers. Let’s not have “The Beverly Shove” or Booker have blood gushing out of his nose and it just won’t stop. As long as the Suns don’t have something crazy happen to them that makes them lose, everything will be alright. Wait, you don’t think the Suns are cursed?