Suns’ Chris Paul, Deandre Ayton Put on Blast Amid Series With Clippers

Deandre Ayton and Chris Paul of the Phoenix Suns

Getty Chris Paul (left) and Deandre Ayton of the Phoenix Suns.

The Phoenix Suns hold a commanding 3-1 lead over the Los Angeles Clippers in the Western Conference Semifinal. But context is necessary when discussing the Suns’ dominant performance. Los Angeles started the series without one-half of their superstar duo, Paul George, who is still rehabbing from a knee injury he suffered in March. Then, Clippers’ star Kawhi Leonard also suffered a knee injury that has caused him to miss games 3 and 4 of the series, and he will likely be out for Game 5 as well.

Still, the Suns have struggled to create separation between themselves and the Clippers, as they could have just as easily lost the three games they won. It is one of the reasons Kurt Helin of NBC Sports is having “buyer’s remorse” about Phoenix winning the West.

“Along those lines, having watched the Suns in person for the last two games I’m having buyer’s remorse picking them to come out of the West (even if it was a “best of the bad options” pick). Devin Booker has been brilliant, and Kevin Durant has been himself, and with that duo, they can win any one game,” said Helin.

“But Chris Paul has looked old for stretches and Deandre Ayton is, well, Deandre Ayton. Monty Williams is still trying to figure out what rotations work and, despite some solid counting stats from Torrey Craig, nothing has worked consistently. The Suns are still dangerous, but their struggles against a shorthanded Clippers squad that often outworks them and plays with more cohesion speaks to inconsistency and a lack of depth.”

Clippers Not Expected to Make Any Big Changes

For the Clippers, the injury bugged has spurned them in the playoffs once again. For those who may be tardy to the party, during the 2021 Western Conference Semifinals against the Utah Jazz, Leonard tore his ACL, which caused him to miss several months of action. This time around, George and Leonard are on the sideline for the Clippers.

But despite the Clippers’ stars being unable to stay on the court together consistently, Helin says there are no plans to break up the Los Angeles star duo.

“The once again shorthanded Clippers are going to be bounced from the playoffs in the first round on Tuesday (Norman Powell and company have fought valiantly the last two games, but without their stars, they can only do so much). What does that mean for them this summer? Expect the Clippers essentially to run this roster back,” Helin added.

“Talking to several sources around the league, that is the expectation right now, they have both Kawhi Leonard and Paul George under contract for next season and they showed enough flashes to tease (Leonard looked like a top-10 player for the two games he could go this postseason). Leonard and George are extension eligible this offseason, which poses some interesting questions.”

Stephen A. Smith Sounds off on Kawhi Leonard

After missing Game 4 and Game 5 of the series and seeing the Clippers fall down 3-1, ESPN personality Stephen A. Smith called Kawhi “One of the worst superstars this game has ever seen”. But in an unexpected turn of events, Leonard’s sister was convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison which the ESPN personality felt warranted further context.

“You know, I said some things on this show last week about Kawhi Leonard as a superstar. I meant every word of it. Having said all of that, I said it unaware of some of the personal things his family has gotten into,” Smith said about Leonard on the April 24 episode of ESPN’s First Take via Clutch Points.

“I had no knowledge of that at the time that I said it, Otherwise, obviously, I would not have said it. It still has nothing to do with it, doesn’t change my opinion. I was just talking about him as a marketable star. Nevertheless, that subject would have been saved for another day had I known that.”