The Phoenix Suns may hold a 2-0 lead, but this is very familiar territory for the Los Angeles Clippers and our NBA picks expect they will bounce back in fine form, as they have in the previous two rounds.
Read on below to get an in-depth analysis on the series so far and find out what you can expect from tonight’s action in our NBA picks for Game Three of the Western Conference Finals.
Phoenix Suns @ Los Angeles Clippers (Game 3) – 9pm EDT
It took up until the very last second, but the Phoenix Suns managed to hold on in Game Two, giving themselves a 2-0 series lead over the Los Angeles Clippers. They now head to LA full of confidence, and boosted by the fact that Chris Paul has cleared his quarantine protocols and is set to return the team for Game Three.
In Paul’s absence, Cameron Payne joined the starting lineup and what a revelation he has been. After averaging just 10.2 points and 2.9 assists through the first two rounds of the playoffs, Payne has thrived with the increased responsibility, putting up 11 points and nine assists in Game One and then a game and career high 29 points in Game Two, all while adding nine assists again.
His play has been incredible so far and while he moves back to the bench for Paul’s return, we are expecting that he will still play a vital role in Phoenix’s future success. Paul won’t have played a game in 11 days when he takes the court tonight, spending seven of those in quarantine due to COVID-19. That means it will take a while for the playmaker to get back up to speed and get his fitness back.
📈 @campayne joined LeBron James, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird as the only players with 29+ points, 9+ assists and 0 turnovers in a Conference Finals or Finals game.
(H/T Stathead) pic.twitter.com/oiQI3BQjEF
— Phoenix Suns (@Suns) June 24, 2021
There is definitely some extra meaning in this one though, with Paul leading the Clippers’ through their most successful period, prior to their current run. While he has played an excellent role as mentor for the young Suns, allowing Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton to flourish, Paul will definitely want to ensure he beats his former side and advance to the NBA Finals for the first time.
Those two young stars that he has unlocked have had their ups and downs so far in the playoffs, and even in this series. Booker had a 40 point triple double in game one but struggled to find his shot on Tuesday night and then had to get stitches on his nose after a head clash with Patrick Beverley. While he is expected to play tonight, he will have to wear a mask and may still be feeling some ill effects of the collision.
Ayton on the other hand has been dominant so far this series, following up a 20 point, nine rebound effort on Sunday with a dominant 24 point, 14 rebound double double on Tuesday, including the game winner. The big man has shot an incredible 22-29 (75.9%) through the first two games and the Clippers are seriously missing Serge Ibaka more than they ever have. He would be the perfect defender for Ayton but LA are stuck with Ivica Zubac, who is too slow, and Marcus Morris Sr, who is banged up and too small.
Morris, who had 29 points in games four and five of the Utah series, struggled with his shot in Phoenix, going just 1-7 from deep for a combined 13 points. If he isn’t hitting shots, the Clippers find it hard to space the floor and get good looks, so they will be hoping that the change in venue will be beneficial. Zubac on the other hand hadn’t started for five straight games, being played just 18 minutes in game one, but was inserted into the lineup to help defend Ayton. He obviously didn’t do a good job, being too slow to keep up, but did use his big frame to provide some offense, finishing with 14 points and 11 rebounds.
Paul George missed 5 free throws tonight.
He hasn’t missed that many FTs in a game since 8 seasons ago (his only other time in his career). pic.twitter.com/RtyI0ogKwd
— StatMuse (@statmuse) June 23, 2021
Unfortunately for the Clippers, with Kawhi Leonard still sidelined, they are very dependent on the play of Paul George and Reggie Jackson. While Paul, a seven time All Star, is expected to be able to lead a team at this stage of the postseason, Jackson only started in two thirds of the games he played in during the regular season and is on a minimum contract, yet is still their second best player right now.
Jackson scored 19 points and connected on three from behind the arc, a game high, but didn’t quite score enough, while also playing terrible defense on Payne. He will need to lift to another level tonight if the Clippers are any chance of claiming their first win of the series. However, ultimately it comes down to George. While he scored 10 points in the last quarter, his 16 points through the first three is nowhere near enough when he is the main provider of offense for this team. While George has played the most minutes out of anyone this postseason, going 5-10 from the line, including missing a pair late in the game that would have essentially them the game, is unacceptable and needs to be rectified.
While it may not necessarily be a pattern, the Clippers have fallen down 0-2 in the first two rounds of the postseason and then come out to win Game Three by 10 and 26 points. While Leonard is still OUT, the Clippers have seemed to grow an extra leg at home, winning their last four at the Staples Center, including three against the league-leading Jazz. Paul is obviously a massive inclusion for the Suns, but we can’t see the Clippers going down 0-3 in this series, especially when they have been able to keep the two games in Phoenix so close.
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*Odds and spreads correct at time of publication, courtesy of FanDuel.
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Photo By: Davis Vives