Clippers’ Game 6 Chances Rise as Suns Go Without Key Bench Player

Cameron Johnson

Getty Johnson and Saric battle Cousins during Game 5

The odds of the Los Angeles Clippers forcing a Game 7 in the Western Conference finals may have just gotten a boost, as the Phoenix Suns have announced that forward Cameron Johnson will miss Wednesday’s Game 6 with an illness. The Suns lead the series 3-2.

The Suns did not specify what exactly is ailing Johnson, except that is non-COVID-19 related.

Johnson has been a valuable piece for Phoenix off the bench against the Clippers, averaging 10.8 points and 4.0 rebounds while shooting 70% from the field and 52.9% from three — all better than his regular-season numbers in roughly the same amount of minutes per game (24). In Game 5, a 116-102 Clippers victory, Johnson scored 14 points on 5-for-6 shooting, connecting on all three of his attempts from behind the arc.

The second-year UNC product missed the final six games of the regular season with a wrist injury but returned in time for the Suns opening series against the Lakers. Johnson has played in each of the Suns’ games this postseason.


Johnson’s Ball-Hawking May Be Missed Most

While Johnson certainly adds value offensively, allowing the Suns to spread the floor and using his athleticism to create opportunities at the basket on the break, the Suns may miss most what Johnson brings defensively.

Long and rangy, the 6-foot-8 Johnson is averaging 1.2 steals against the Clippers, including three in Game 5 — all coming in the second half and two of which were on bad passes by Paul George in the fourth. Johnson converted the second such steal into a transition three-point play, closing the Clippers’ lead to just four with seven minutes to play.

In his absence, the Suns are likely to give more minutes to forward Torrey Craig and big man Dario Saric.

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Craig and Saric Likely to See More Minutes

Craig joined the Suns in March, in a trade with the Milwaukee Bucks, and though fully integrated into the Suns’ offense by season’s end, has played only 10.6 minutes per game in the Clippers series. After going 3-for-5 from the field and 2-for-2 from three in a Suns Game 1 victory, the 6-foot-7 Craig has seen his shot volume decline precipitously, totaling just eight overall attempts over the last four games and missing both of his two attempts from long-distance.

Craig brings an athletic, physical presence on the defensive wing, able to check quicker perimeter shooters, and with the muscle to body up on the post and compete at the rim.

Saric, on the other hand, is a big presence down low, but has struggled mightily at times on defense, most recently against former All-NBA center DeMarcus Cousins in Game 5. Cousins had his way with Saric on the post, easily backing his way into the paint and finishing with 15 points in just 11 minutes off the bench. And Saric, a career 35.7% shooter from behind the arc, has not shot well from on limited looks three this series, managing just 28.8% on seven total attempts.

Drafted 12th overall by Philadelphia in 2014, Saric was a double-digit scorer in his two-plus seasons as a Sixers before being traded to Minnesota, as part of the Jimmy Butler deal, after just 13 games in 2018-19. Saric finished out the season in Minnesota before being traded — along with Johnson — to the Suns in exchange for Jarrett Culver, Phoenix’s first-round pick out of Texas Tech in 2019. Culver was the sixth overall pick in the draft but never saw time in a Suns uniform, being shipped off Minnesota less than a month after the June draft.

There is no word on the severity of Johnson’s illness and it remains to be seen if he will play in a possible Game 7.


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