PHOENIX — Western Conference Finals. A stage that has tripped up the Phoenix Suns three times since the 1993 Finals run. A stage that Chris Paul has only seen once in 12 previous trips to the playoffs.
We can talk about "curses" for both the Suns and CP3, but this team just has a different feel, like a team of destiny, even with all of the lingering questions about Paul's status.
The Suns say he remains in protocols, and Monty Williams wouldn't expand on whether or not he still has a chance to play in Game 1. It certainly seems as though the Suns will be without their star point guard to start the series, but round one against the Lakers prepared them for this moment.
If the Clippers had a healthy Kawhi Leonard, that's one thing. But his chance to play in this series seems far more unlikely.
The Clippers won both games against the Suns in the regular season in which Leonard and Paul George played (Suns won with both of them out), but that was long ago, and the playoffs are all about the teams that get hot at the right time.
The Suns have found another gear.
The Clippers picked on Utah center Rudy Gobert, taking the Defensive Player of the Year out of the paint and to the three-point line. DeAndre Ayton, who says he hates being called a "Big Man" or "Big Fella" because it diminishes his athleticism, can hang and will be up to the task.
He'll have a chance to really take advantage on the offensive end because the Clippers turned to a small-ball lineup without Leonard and went to town on a banged-up Jazz team.
But the Suns are really good at switching on defense and closing out shooters. They're also extremely balanced offensively, while the Clippers are going to need big games from George nearly every night. I'll take the strong defensive team with scoring balance.
This Suns team is on a mission, and I think that the chippiness with the Clippers will only heighten that. With Chris Paul, I think the Suns could beat the Kawhi-less Clippers in 5 games, but if CP3 is out for Game 1, give me Suns in 6.