Game 1 of the NBA Western Conference Finals on Sunday was an entertaining, high energy start to what should be a very competitive series even with each team missing a future Hall of Fame player. The Phoenix Suns, minus point guard Chris Paul, defeated the Los Angeles Clippers, who were missing Kawhi Leonard, by 120-114 at home.
Paul, who made All-NBA Second Team this season, and Leonard, who was named to the First Team, were sidelined due to the league’s health and safety protocols related to COVID-19 and a sprained right knee, respectively. They both were out again for Game 2 on Tuesday night. Paul was listed as being out indefinitely and Leonard’s status was unclear for the rest of the series. There has been very little shared by the Clippers regarding the severity of his injury.
Paul has averaged 15.7 points, 8.7 assists and 4.1 rebounds in the first two rounds of the postseason. Leonard has averaged 30.4 points, 7.7 rebounds and 4.4 assists in 11 playoff games. The No. 2 seeded Suns ousted the Los Angeles Lakers 4-2 in their opening round series and swept the Denver Nuggets 4-0 in their semifinals match up.
The health of Clippers starting forward Marcus Morros for Game 2 was also undetermined hours before tip-off. Morris was dealing with a sore knee. “He’s doing everything in his power to be out there tomorrow night,” said Clippers head coach Tyronn Lue on Monday. What was certain was that Suns guard Devin Booker would be ready. Playing with a chip on his shoulder after being left off each of the three All-NBA teams, Booker exploded for 40 points, 13 rebounds and 11 assists in Game 1 against the Clippers. He was asked where he would rank that performance on the list of his other great games.
“I’ll let you guys do the rankings,” Booker said to the media. “I’m just going out there to win every game possible. I’ve been saying this since the start of the playoffs, every next game is the biggest game.” That’s the view the Clippers had to take heading into Game 2. “We got to figure out how to counter, which we will, figure out another game plan,” said Clippers’ forward Paul George, who led his team with 34 points in Game 1. “I think this was a good feel-out game to see adjustments. We have been great at adjusting.”
The Suns and Clippers met three times during the regular season, with the Clippers winning the first two, 112-107 in January on the road and 113-103 in early April at home. The Suns won the third in Phoenix in late April by 109-101.
But the Clippers will need all hands on deck now, with Game 3 tonight at home and Game 4 Saturday also at the Staples Center.