The Phoenix Suns Game 1 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers in the first round of the Western Conference NBA playoffs was an exciting, back-and-forth game featuring two good teams and numerous NBA superstars. It was a shame one team had to lose, but those are the breaks. And after a team loses, we have to look at the players most to blame for that loss who, in this case, are Cam Payne, Chirs Paul, and Kevin Durant.
Blaming any Suns for this loss, though, shouldn’t take away what the Clippers stars did to take this game on the Suns’ home court. Kawhi Leonard was incredible, dropping 38 on the Suns to lead the way. Eric Gordon hit some monster shots, and Russell Westbrook’s block to win the game was excellent.
The Clippers flat-out won this game more than the Suns lost it, but there is still blame to assess after the first game of this exciting NBA playoffs series. Here are the three Suns to blame for the Game 1 loss to the Clippers.
3. Cam Payne
This isn’t “blame” in the sense of Suns guard Cam Payne shouldn’t be injured or needs to get back quicker or anything. It’s more of a compliment than anything else. Payne wasn’t available for the Suns Game 1 against the Clippers, and that hurt the team a lot.
The Payne injury led to several issues for the Suns. One is that Chris Paul had to play 39 minutes without his top backup, which is seven minutes more than he averaged in the regular season. Off-guard Devin Booker played 43, more than eight over his season average.
Neither Booker nor Paul was great in the dying minutes of the game, and maybe a little more rest with Payne in the mix would have helped.
Payne’s status for Game 2 is unknown, but the Suns need to hope he gets back for the next game on Tuesday, April 18. The Clippers point guards — Russell Westbrook, Bones Hyland, and Terance Mann all struggled shooting the ball in Game 1, but any one of them could explode down the line if Payne isn’t in the lineup to pick up some of the defensive slack.
The backup point guard’s defense could have helped in Game 1, too, if the team put him on Eric Gordon, who was the No. 2 scorer for LA.
2. Chris Paul
It’s the NBA playoffs again, so of course it’s time to blame Chris Paul for a loss.
Look, Paul wasn’t bad in the Suns Game 1 loss. But he wasn’t all that good either. The PG pulled down seven boards and dished out 10 assists, which are excellent numbers. However, he only scored seven points on 2-of-8 shooting from the field and 1-of-2 from the 3-point arc.
Paul’s defense wasn’t terrible either, but he did allow the Clippers PGs to get up a lot of shots. Luckily for Phoenix, hardly any of those shots dropped. Together, Westbrook, Hyland, and Mann were 7-of-31 from the field, with Westbrook producing the worst night at 3-of-19 shooting.
Paul’s performance has to worry Suns fans for two reasons. First, Paul will be 38 in about three weeks, and second, he’s always choked in the NBA playoffs.
We shouldn’t pin the Suns Game 1 loss and Paul’s role in that on either of these factors yet. He likely just had a mediocre game. That said, those two factors have to be in the back of everyone’s mind — including Paul’s — and at some point, they will crop up.
1. Kevin Durant
The Chris Paul, Devin Booker, and Deandre Ayton Suns haven’t been able to get over the hump on their own in the NBA playoffs, so the franchise went all in under new owner Matt Ishbia and brought in Kevin Durant.
The deal happened at the 2023 trade deadline, and KD was injured at the time. So, the team knew he wasn’t going to get a big run with his new teammates heading into the playoffs.
Still, the Suns gambled that Durant is such a transcendent star that he doesn’t need that run and can elevate the team enough to help them win the Larry O’Brien trophy.
In Game 1 of the 2023 NBA playoffs, Durant was good, despite going 0-of-5 in the first quarter. But he wasn’t enough to get the Suns over the line, and that’s troubling.
Durant put up 27 points, nine rebounds, 11 assists, one steal, and two blocks. He did everything he could to help the team win, except for taking the last shot.
KD hit a 3-pointer with 1:24 to go in the game to get the Suns within three. From there on out, it was the Devin Booker and Chris Paul Show, and we all know how that show ends.
The Suns brought Durant in to be the savior, so he needs to save his team in big spots. If he doesn’t at least try, he has to take the most blame for the L.