Paul's huge night leads Suns past Clippers, into NBA Finals


The Phoenix Suns are NBA Finals bound.

The Suns booked their first trip to the NBA Finals since 1993 with a 130-103 Game 6 Western Conference finals victory over the Los Angeles Clippers at Staples Center on Wednesday night.

Seeking the first Finals appearance of his 16-year career, Chris Paul went off for a playoff career-high-tying 41 points, scoring 31 in the second half, in addition to dishing out eight assists. Devin Booker, in the midst of a stellar postseason debut, added 22 points and seven rebounds.

With Phoenix down one of its top role players in Cam Johnson due to a non-COVID-related illness, Jae Crowder delivered his best performance of the series with 19 points, while Deandre Ayton posted a monster double-double of 16 points and 17 rebounds.

The Suns’ 2021 Finals berth comes just one season after the franchise endured its sixth straight losing campaign.

But the Suns did finish last season strong with an undefeated eight-game run in the NBA bubble and, after trading for Paul and signing Crowder in the offseason, Monty Williams' squad carried that momentum into 2020-21 by winning 51 games (their most since 2009-10) and securing the West’s No. 2 seed. Phoenix got past LeBron James and the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers in Round 1 of the playoffs before sweeping MVP Nikola Jokic and the Denver Nuggets in the conference semifinals.

Phoenix now awaits the winner of the Eastern Conference finals between the Milwaukee Bucks and Atlanta Hawks. The Trae Young-less Hawks tied up the series at 2-2 on Tuesday as Giannis Antetokounmpo went down with a hyperextended knee. Young is questionable while Antetokounmpo is doubtful for Thursday’s Game 5 in Milwaukee.

If the Bucks-Hawks series wraps up in six games, the Finals will start on July 6. If a Game 7 is required, then Game 1 of the Finals will be on July 8. The Suns will have home-court advantage in the Finals regardless of opponent due to their superior regular-season record.

Meanwhile, the Clippers enter an offseason of uncertainty, likely wondering what could have been after their season ended without their best player in uniform. Kawhi Leonard missed Los Angeles’ final eight playoff games due to a right knee sprain. While the Clippers managed to close out their second-round series against the top-seeded Utah Jazz with Leonard sidelined, his absence proved to be too much to overcome in the West finals. Leonard reportedly would not have been ready to play if Los Angeles forced a Game 7, though there was at least a chance he could have returned during the NBA Finals.

A rumor surfaced last week citing Leonard’s unhappiness with the Clippers’ medical staff, which is especially notable with his potential free agency looming. Leonard has a $36 million player option that makes sense financially for him to decline (he can make over $39 million next season on a new max deal).

Of course, he could simply opt out of his current deal just to sign a new one with L.A. But losing the two-time Finals MVP would be a devastating blow to the Clippers, who paid a huge price to pair Leonard with Paul George in the summer of 2019.

Needless to say, the Clippers have a massive offseason ahead of them.

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