When Chris Paul missed only a brief stretch of Sunday’s Game 1 matchup between the Phoenix Suns and Los Angeles Lakers, it appeared as though he had avoided a serious injury to his shoulder. But Paul was largely ineffective down the stretch of that game, and in Tuesday’s Game 2, he played only 23 minutes. In that time, he scored six points on only five shots, and the Suns were forced to close with backup Cameron Payne on the floor. When asked about the injury, Suns coach Monty Williams made it clear that Paul is not himself right now.
“It’s pretty obvious,” Williams said after Game 2. “He’s not able to make the passes he wants. He was laboring tonight. I don’t want to get into too many details until I talk to him. But you could see that his arm wasn’t … he wasn’t even running the way he ran and dribbled the ball this morning.”
Paul said he “heard a crack” after the injury itself, but he was not listed on Phoenix’s injury report prior to Game 2. He started the game, but as it played out, it became clear that he was not close to 100 percent. “We’re hopeful it’ll get better over the next 48 hours,” Williams said. “Don’t want to say too much or put too many details into that question.”
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The Lakers tied the series 1-1 on Tuesday, and as Williams said, the Suns will have only 48 hours before they play Game 3 on the road at Staples Center on Thursday night. There is no indication at this stage that Paul will be too injured to play then, but if he is not healthier by that point, the Suns have another option in Payne. The resurgent backup gave the Suns 19 points and seven assists in Paul’s stead in Game 2.
But Payne can’t be relied upon to play that well throughout an entire seven-game series. He’s a backup. Paul is a future Hall of Famer, and the Lakers are the defending champions. The Suns need their best player contributing at a superstar level if they hope to dethrone the Lakers, but if Game 2 was any indication, he has an uphill battle ahead of him.