Los Angeles Clippers small forward Kawhi Leonard hasn’t played a single game of the Western Conference Finals against Chris Paul and the Phoenix Suns due to a right knee ailment. The two-time Finals MVP reportedly suffered an ACL injury on June 14 against the Utah Jazz.
Despite Leonard’s absence from the series, though, Paul is still receiving jabs from the Clippers star’s camp.
Kawhi Leonard’s trainer takes shot at Chris Paul
Leonard’s trainer, Clint Parks, took a shot at Paul during Game 4 of the conference finals. He said the All-Star guard needs to stop playing “traffic cop” and move the ball more.
Paul has a tendency to pass the ball at the last minute with the shot clock winding down, forcing his teammate to force up a shot to avoid a shot-clock violation. Former NBA guard Nick Young, who played with CP3 on the Clippers, talked about how he hated that part of Paul’s game a few years ago on the Uninterrupted podcast.
“The only problem I hated when I played with Chris Paul is he’ll pass it to you at the last minute,” Young said. “Like he never wanted that turnover or take that last shot. He’ll force you to have to shoot the grenade. I hated that. That’s the only thing I hated. He’ll dribble, dribble, dribble and pass it to you with like one, two seconds and you gotta force something up.”
The Suns won Games 1 and 2 against the Clippers without Paul, who didn’t play after testing positive for COVID-19. The future Hall of Famer played in Games 3, 4, and 5, and while Phoenix won Game 4, the eye test and advanced numbers have shown that Monty Williams’ offense hasn’t been as smooth with Paul back in the fold.
Chris Paul is shooting 31.7% against the Clippers
In three games against the Clippers, Paul is averaging 18.3 points and 9.0 assists. However, he’s only shooting 31.7% from the field and had a +/- of minus-15 in Games 3 and 5.
The Suns registered an offensive rating of 130.5 in Game 1 and 115.9 in Game 2 sans Paul. That rating dropped to 100.1 in Game 3, 93.6 in Game 4, and 104.6 in Game 5 with the four-time assists champion in the lineup. Paul may be one of the greatest point guards in NBA history, but the numbers show he’s hurting the Suns right now.
Paul has blown a 3-1 series lead in the playoffs before. If the Suns don’t defeat the Leonard-less Clippers, his legacy will take a massive hit. He’s never made it to the NBA Finals, and several other legendary floor generals in NBA history — Magic Johnson, Isiah Thomas, Oscar Robertston, Stephen Curry and Jason Kidd, to name a few — have won championships.
Would the series already be over if Kawhi Leonard was playing?
Leonard was putting up stellar numbers before getting hurt against the Jazz in the second round. He was averaging 30.4 points while shooting an efficient 57.3% from the floor and 39.3% from beyond the arc.
With the way Leonard was playing, a case could be made that the Clippers would have already defeated Paul and the Suns to advance to the NBA Finals if the swingman was playing. It’s a shame the two-time Defensive Player of the Year sustained an injury and isn’t able to help lead the Clippers to their first Finals.
Game 6 is arguably the biggest contest of Paul’s career. He has a chance to advance to his first NBA Finals at Staples Center, the arena he called home for six seasons. If the Suns lose Game 6, they will face tremendous pressure in Game 7 despite being at home since the Clippers would have all the momentum, and Paul and Co. could start to second-guess themselves.
Stats courtesy of Basketball Reference.