Free Picks: Phoenix Suns vs. Los Angeles Clippers, 2021 Western Conference Finals (Round 3)

Suns vs Clippers - 2021 NBA Playoffs Finals
Phoenix Suns vs. Los Angeles Clippers, Suns wins series 4-2

With the second-seeded Phoenix Suns taking on the fourth-seeded Los Angeles Clippers for the Western Conference title, we were certain to get a team in the NBA finals that hadn’t been there in a while. Well, the Clippers had never been there period, but the Suns have been waiting 28 years—ever since the Round Mound of Rebound and company fell short to Michael Jordan in 1993—to make it to the end, and they finally make their return this year after winning the Western Conference Finals 4-2.

Series Results (Suns wins series 4-2)

The Los Angeles Clippers had been one of the best stories of this strange and unfortunate postseason, coming back from down 2-0 to win their first two playoff series against solid competition before losing their best player, Kawhi Leonard, to an undisclosed ACL injury in Game 4 of the Conference semifinals. His team was able to win two more games against the Jazz to earn their first ever Conference Finals appearance, but that’s as far as they’d go.

Without Leonard, the Clippers just didn’t have the firepower to keep up with the potent and defensively sound Phoenix Suns, losing both games in which they were missing Chris Paul. But again, Los Angeles showed their mettle, as head coach Tyronn Lue put on a coaching masterclass throughout the playoffs and especially against the Suns to push the series to a sixth game.

The Suns had won their first three games of the series by a combined 11 points as valiant efforts from the likes of Paul George, Pat Beverley, and Reggie Jackson pushed Phoenix to the brink each night. In Game 6, however, the Clippers finally gave out as they were blown away by a 27-point margin on their way out of the playoffs. Whether or not Leonard, who is a free agent this summer, will return to L.A. remains to be seen.

Phoenix, meanwhile, did a great job in surviving the furious onslaught of the Clippers, with head coach Monty Williams matching Lue stride for stride, which is an impressive feat. After the team won an ugly Game 4 in spite of Paul and then lost Game 5 largely because of the aging point guard, the coach and team adjusted for Game 6.

All postseason, the Suns have had the most success when they’re running and playing with pace, and that’s what Paul added to his arsenal for Game 6 while also rediscovering his clutch stroke, at one point scoring 14 of 16 points for Phoenix as they pulled away from L.A. for good.

They will now face whichever of the Milwaukee Bucks or the Atlanta Hawks limp into the Finals from the East, and we absolutely love this Suns team to win this franchise’s first ever NBA title as our NBA pick no matter which team emerges.

Game 1

June 20, 03:30 p.m., Phoenix Suns Arena

(Playoff Betting Record: 36-29, +6.42)

As has sort of been the theme of these 2021 playoffs and, honestly, the entire shortened 2020-2021 NBA season, both the Phoenix Suns—who will enjoy home court advantage for these Western Conference Finals—and their opponents, the Los Angeles Clippers, will likely be playing one or multiple games in this series without one of their leaders and most important players.

The Clippers will almost certainly have to go it without their undisputed top dog Kawhi Leonard, who suffered what is being regarded as an ACL injury, the gravity of which the team has not shared with others. But it was bad enough for the Klaw to miss the final five minutes of Game 4 as well as both Games 5 and 6. He has been referred to as ‘out indefinitely’ by the biggest names in NBA breaking news such as Shams Charania and Adrian Wojnarowski.

The Clippers and their fans can at least take heart in knowing that they won Games 4, 5, and 6 despite the fact that they didn’t have the services of Leonard. In his stead, Paul George has played some of the best playoff basketball we’ve seen out of the veteran since his days as an Indiana Pacer when he was the biggest thorn in the side of those LeBron James Miami Heat teams.

PG’s resurgence will need to continue against the Suns if the Clippers want to make a series out of this, but without Kawhi out there, one or two of those supporting characters for the Clippers that played so well down the stretch of that Utah series will need to play out of their mind each night.

They’ve got a stable of solid guys that can help them in that regard. Marcus Morris has bounced back from a shooting slump earlier in the playoffs, Reggie Jackson has been astonishing, Nicolas Batum is a good glue guy, and youngster Terrence Mann showed he’s no slouch either with a 39-point in Game 6.

The biggest question for Sunday’s Game 1 matchup will be whether or not veteran point guard Chris Paul will be able to be out there with his team. Paul tested positive for COVID earlier this week and has a chance to play on Sunday if he is cleared on Saturday. There has been no such news as of this writing, but we like the Suns with our NBA pick in Game 1 anyways.

The Suns were one of the best defensive teams in basketball this season, so what they’re bringing to the table on that end with guys like Mikal Bridges, Jae Crowder, and DeAndre Ayton is a lot more than the Clippers have had to deal with so far during their arduous 2021 postseason journey.

There may be some rust from the Suns’ side, but that’s what they said about the Utah Jazz before their Game 1 matchup against the Clippers last round, which the Jazz won. This long season followed one of the shortest offseasons in NBA history, so I think there is some merit to the notion that the Clippers are going to be a little bit more gassed than the Suns, especially down the stretch of these first couple of games.

When you consider that the Suns have had a full week off while the Clippers have played 13 games in 27 days and have played a game every other day since May 28th, it’s hard not to factor in fatigue on Sunday. I know they’re pro athletes, but they’re still human, and a schedule like that would take a toll on anyone.

While we would feel a lot more secure in our pick if we knew Paul was going to play, we still believe that Cameron Payne is more than up to the task to help guide the Suns in his stead. Payne did just that several times in the first round against the Los Angeles Lakers when Paul went down with his shoulder issue, and there’s no reason he shouldn’t be able to do it again here in Game 1 if need be.

Unless PG takes the challenge of guarding Devin Booker more often than not, it’s hard to imagine who on the Clippers could stop or even slow the young scorer down. Booker has been the catalyst as much as Paul has for the seven-game winning streak Phoenix brings into Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals.

Booker’s excellent postseason play—along with the numerous other factors mentioned—is why we think he can lead the youthful and exuberant Suns to the win even if his mentor isn’t available. We’re taking Phoenix to cover a -5.5 NBA point spread at lovely +103 NBA odds as one of our best bets for today.

BET ON PHOENIX SUNS TO COVER -5.5 POINT SPREAD (+103 odds, 22Bet)

Game 2 (Suns leads series 1-0)

June 22 , 09:00 p.m., , Phoenix Suns Arena

(Playoff Betting Record: 37-32, +5.45)

Right from the opening tip it seemed plain to see that we’d been blessed with a wonderful Western Conference matchup here between the Phoenix Suns and the Los Angeles Clippers, as both teams came out with competitive fire and energy that made this clash quite a joy to watch for any NBA fan.

Neither team built a lead larger than five points during the first half, which was a nice change of pace compared to some other contests that have seen large 20 point swings at multiple times in the game. There was none of that in the desert for this Sunday matinee as each run from either side was responded to in kind by the opposition to keep this one a nail-biter.

Phoenix got it up to a six-point lead early in the third quarter, led by an all-time performance from 24-year-old Devin Booker. The native of Grand Rapids, Michigan went off in the third quarter, scoring or assisting on 22 straight Phoenix points at one juncture.

However, they were unable to build on it as the Clippers responded once again with eight points from Paul George down the stretch of the third to tie the game up heading into the final 12. The fourth quarter is when the Suns finally opened up a double-digit lead of 10 points, the largest lead of the game for either side, which speaks to the competitive and tightly contested nature of this Game 1 clash.

Point guard Cameron Payne—who has been a revelation stepping in for Chris Paul when the veteran has been unable to suit up—and Booker combined for a quick eight points before Cam Johnson slammed one home to give the Suns that 10-point advantage with just over eight minutes remaining.

The Clippers fought back again, but the Suns also had another run in them as well, pushing the lead back up to 10 with just under two minutes left. And just when you thought this thing was all done and dusted, the Clippers went on an 8-0 run of their own, capped off by the hero of their series-clinching Game 6 win over the Utah Jazz a few days ago, Terrence Mann, draining a triple.

A defensive breakdown by the Clips on the ensuing inbounds allowed for a free dunk for Booker, and after PG had his layup blocked and Batum missed the three-point jumper that followed, Booker sealed it with a rebound and a pair of free throws. Booker would finish the night with 40 points, 13 rebounds, and 11 dimes, just the second time a Suns player has had a 40-point triple-double in the playoffs and the first since Charles Barkley did it in the ‘90s.

That performance not only put Booker’s supreme talent and basketball IQ on display, it also showed that the Suns can definitely get the job done when their savvy leader Paul is unable to join them on the court or the sideline. While Booker dominated, Phoenix had five other players score in double-digits, highlighted by 20 from big man DeAndre Ayton. That big performance from the seven-footer is definitely a contributing factor in our NBA pick for Game 2 as well.

Some thought that L.A.’s lack of a big man would force Phoenix head coach Monty Williams to take Ayton out as his lack of mobility became a liability, but nothing of the sort happened in Game 1, as the Clippers were instead forced

to Ivica Zubac for 18 minutes. When Zubac is in, the Clippers are not at their best, as evidenced by the lineups they have used to get by the Dallas Mavericks and Utah Jazz.

Both teams shot 40+ percent from deep on Sunday afternoon, though the Clippers relied much more heavily on the long ball, draining 20 threes compared to Phoenix’s 13. Both teams shoot the ball well, but as we’ve seen during these playoffs, you never know when those downtown tries are going to stop falling, so the Suns leaning less on those long jumpers makes them a more encouraging choice for our top pick on Tuesday night.

Paul George scored 34 points, but he did not shoot the ball particularly well, and it seems as though Marcus Morris has fallen back into a shooting rut. Even Reggie Jackson, who’s been a revelation during this postseason, slowed his roll a little bit, going just 4-for-12 from beyond the arc in Game 1 for L.A.

The youthful exuberance and athleticism of guys like Booker, Payne, and Mikal Bridges combined with the veteran savvy that veterans like Paul and Jae Crowder bring to this Suns team seems like a mixture that will be very tough to overcome. Crowder, Bridges, and Cam Johnson are all solid, long perimeter defenders that can slow PG as well as L.A.’s gaggle of three-point marksmen.

We like the Suns to hold onto home court advantage and cover a -6.5 NBA point spread for us in Game 2 at beautiful +100 NBA odds as our best bet for today. If Paul becomes eligible before the game, I believe this point spread will offer a whole lot more value as well.

BET ON PHOENIX SUNS TO COVER -6.5 POINT SPREAD  (+100 odds, 888sport)

Game 3 (Suns leads series 2-0)

June 24, 09:00 p.m., Staples Center

(Playoff Betting Record: 37-33, +4.45)

The game-high nine-point lead was, of course, taken by the Suns, but it didn’t last long, as this game was contested for nearly its entirety with leads in the range of 0-6 points. That’s the kind of competitive, tough basketball that we as fans love to see. Big 20-4 runs are fun once in a while, but it’s a lot more entertaining to watch a game that is hard-fought throughout.

The only issues with this all-time game were the broadcast and the officiating in the final minute of play, which probably took about 11 years to get done. I haven’t checked exact numbers, but that seems like a fair ballpark after what we witnessed last night.

In the final minute, there were at least four reviews I can remember off the top of my head, and each of them took ages for refs to figure out, not to mention the obscene amount of extra commercials we were forced to sit through while Scott Foster (arguably the worst official in pro sports) and company twiddled their thumbs.

The contest came to a wild finish, with Paul George missing two straight free throws (he again struggled shooting the ball, also going just 5-for-10 from the charity stripe) to leave his team up one point with about 10 seconds left. After the Suns botched the ensuing play, they got a second chance with 0.9 seconds left after the ball went out of bounds.

Following a long review which allowed Phoenix head coach Monty Williams to draw up a new play, burgeoning big man DeAndre Ayton—who was bossing in this contest—met the ball at the rim and got the game-winning alley-oop with time to spare thanks to a lovely inbounds pass from Jae Crowder, a timely pick from Devin Booker, and the perfect play-call from Williams.

The Suns once again looked the better team—which is why we like them with our NBA pick again as well— as they were able to hold the lead for most of this game despite the fact that they were once again far from putting up their best performance.

Phoenix were once more without Chris Paul, the team shot just 23 percent from beyond the arc, Jae Crowder didn’t even hit a shot, and emerging superstar Booker went just 5-for-16 from the field while also playing through what we can only assume is a broken snout.

But while they didn’t have a great night from downtown—they hit just six triples—the Suns still shot 50 percent from inside the arc and dominated with 60 paint points to L.A.’s 30. A lot of that is down to Ayton’s dominance on the block. Clips seven-footer Ivica Zubac is a solid player, but Ayton is turning into a bonafide elite center in this league and he showed it on Tuesday evening.

Ayton was 12-for-15 from the field (he has shot 50+ percent from the field in every single game during this postseason) for 24 points and 14 rebounds, which was his ninth double-double in 12 games during this playoff run. His three offensive rebounds were also crucial, as was his paint defense, which is another factor contributing to that huge chasm in paint points and will also inform our top pick for this matchup.

The Clippers are a great long-distance shooting team, but they have more success when they’re able to play small and drive into or near the paint where their guys can get to their spots and put in easy looks or drive and kick to open shooters. It’s what they did against the Utah Jazz any time Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert came out of the game, and it always led to an L.A. run.

It seems as though Tyronn Lue and company have not yet figured out a way to play Ayton off the floor like they did with Gobert, however, and if they are unable to crack that code, they will continue to get killed in the paint as Ayton asserts his dominance. Giving DeMarcus Cousins a try playing extended minutes opposite Ayton is worth a shot in my opinion.

While the Clippers have already been in two 0-2 holes during this postseason, the third time is usually the charm, and I believe they’re playing with fire against a much more well-rounded Suns team that could very well be getting their most important player back for Game 3 as Paul works his way through the protocols.

Paul’s return would be a huge boost, but Cameron Payne has been more than excellent in replacing him through two games, putting up a game- and career-high 29 points on 50 percent shooting from the floor on Tuesday night.

There is no Klaw coming to save the Clippers this time, and the solid perimeter as well as paint defense that the Suns boast next to some premier offensive talents makes them the toughest matchup L.A. has seen so far. We like Phoenix to take a commanding 3-0 series lead with a win in Game 3 at solid -110 NBA odds as one of our best bets for today.

 

BET ON PHOENIX SUNS TO WIN  (-110 odds, 888sport)

Game 4 (Suns lead series 2-1)

June 26, 09:00 p.m., Staples Center

(Playoff Betting Record: 37-35, +2.45)

None of the final four teams in this year’s NBA playoffs built a lead larger than 10 points throughout the first three games of the Conference Finals round, but Game 3 between the Phoenix Suns and the Los Angeles Clippers was a whole other story on Thursday night.

The Suns managed the game and maintained a small lead throughout most of the first half, though Paul George went on a 4-0 run to finish the second quarter to send the game into the break at 48-46 for Phoenix. Coming out of the third quarter the Suns still looked to be in control, going up 55-50. At this point, several minutes into the third quarter, the bozos running things at the NBA these days decided to RETROACTIVELY take away a Devin Booker bucket from the FIRST HALF.

That insanity made it a three-point game, but Phoenix never looked the same after that, giving up a 21-3 run to the Clips right then to give the home team a 15-point lead. The Suns then brought the lead back down to seven late in the third quarter, only for Luke Kennard to hit a three followed by a halfcourt heave from Paul George that went in. The clock had started quite late on the heave, but the refs decided not to go back and take a look at that like they did Booker’s. Strange.

The Clippers continued to pour it on in the fourth quarter as they ran their advantage back up to 18 in the blink of an eye. The Suns, however, responded with a 12-0 run of their own to bring the lead back down to six points, but unfortunately, that was as close as they would get, as Reggie Jackson said ‘not tonight,’ putting up 10 quick points to give his team their big cushion again.

After that, Patrick Beverley hit two shots, and at that point, both coaches knew this thing was over, as both instantly emptied their bench after Beverley’s second make. And while Pat Bev making two clutch shots is shocking, his defensive pedigree is certainly not. Many, including myself, thought that Beverley was a has been, but he has come in in Games 2 and 3 and made life hell for Booker, who he also provided with a broken nose during Game 2.

After putting up a 40-point triple-double in Game 1, Booker has averaged 17.5 points on 27 percent shooting from the field over the past two contests with Beverley hounding him every second he has the ball. It must be quite tiring to have to deal with a pest like that, and with a broken nose and mask no less.

Paul’s return certainly didn’t herald the type of performance from his team that many expected. While the 36-year-old did have 12 assists, he was definitely slowing the Suns down on offense, which is a big no-no against this Clippers team. Tyronn Lue’s boys have a very good half court defense, so running and using their youth and speed is the only way that Phoenix is going to best these guys.

Paul is getting up there in age, but I believe he can still run the floor when necessary. Hopefully they can get backup point guard Cameron Payne back after he left early in Game 3 with an ankle injury because the Murray State product is definitely much better at pushing it up the floor, as we saw during his 29-point masterpiece in Game 2.

Everyone on the Suns was shooting the ball very well on Thursday night—except their starting backcourt, which went 10-for-40. I doubt that happens again, and I would expect DeAndre Ayton to get back to his dominant ways against Ivica Zubac as well after allowing the Clippers big man to get the best of him during Game 3 with 16 rebounds, six of which came on the offensive end.

If Ayton can retake the upperhand in the paint and the Phoenix backcourt can shoot a half-decent percentage, we feel good about Phoenix getting back in the win column in Game 4 at the Staples Center with our NBA pick. Phoenix head coach Monty WIlliams probably should have won Coach of the Year this season, and he will doubtless make the proper adjustments to make sure they don’t get beat the same way on Saturday night.

The Suns need to run so as to avoid the Clippers’ stingy half-court defense, Ayton needs to dominate Zubac on the boards and in the paint, and guys need to stop helping off of Reggie Jackson, because the veteran has been redhot all postseason and it doesn’t seem like that’s going to change until the season’s done.

Phoenix would be a much more comfortable pick if we knew whether spark plug Cameron Payne would be playing, but either way, we like the Suns to play a much better game after suffering their worst loss since their last defeat at the hands of the Los Angeles Lakers in a first round that seems like ages ago now. We’re taking the Suns to cover a tiny -1.0 NBA point spread at saucy +100NBA odds as one of our best bets for today.

BET ON PHOENIX SUNS TO COVER -1.0 POINT SPREAD  (+100 odds, 22Bet)

Game 5 (Suns lead series 3-1)

June 28, 09:00 p.m., Phoenix Suns Arena

(Playoff Betting Record: 39-35, +4.51)

It would seem that the gruelling schedule these hoopers have been on since returning from the pandemic-induced hiatus last summer is finally catching up to some of these boys. Los Angeles Clippers star Paul George has played a whopping 653 minutes during these playoffs, a good 150 more than the next closest man.

But it wasn’t just PG that looked like he was feeling the effects of what has pretty much been one, long drawn out season from the end of July 2020 until now. You could say that the final score of 84-80—which is the lowest-scoring game of the season, playoffs or regular season, by a comfortable margin—tells the whole story, but you’d be wrong.

Many current NBA fans likely can’t remember the days of the early 2000s when Ben Wallace and the Detroit Pistons would regularly play Ron Artest’s Indiana Pacers to similar or even lower scores, but those were not games characterized by poor play and fatigue: these were defensive showdowns of epic proportions. While there was some good defense exhibited in Game 4, it seemed to this viewer that the main culprit was bad offense.

The Suns shot just 36 percent from the field, the Clippers 32.5. The two teams also combined to go a horrific 9-for-51 from long range (Clippers led NBA in three-point percentage in the regular season, Suns were seventh) and a measly 29 points in the fourth and final quarter. You read that right. It wasn’t one team that scored 29 in a quarter as teams oftentimes do in this high-scoring era, it was both teams put together that couldn’t manage 30 points in the final 12 minutes.

They also combined for 26 turnovers on the night and at one point neither team scored for nearly four full minutes, it was almost as if the game was frozen at 71-70. Arguably the worst four minutes in NBA playoff history included 15 straight missed shots by both sides as well as a quartet of turnovers. Guys looked tired, they were sloppy, and it really seemed like they were playing on double-rimmed baskets at times on Friday night.

But that ugly stretch was ended with a Chris Paul to DeAndre Ayton alley-oop that gave the Suns back a slightly more comfortable three-point lead. After the Suns went up 16 points during the middle part of the game, the Clippers came back as they do, and the contest was tight for the remainder of the 48.

In fact, the Clippers had 12 shot attempts wherein if they had made the shot, they would have taken the lead. But alas, they went 0-for-12 on potential lead-taking field goals, and the Suns escaped with the strangest wire-to-wire victory you’re likely to see. After losing in such devastating fashion—again—it will be tough for the Clippers to come back, which is why we like the Suns to cover their NBA point spread and book their Finals ticket with our NBA pick for Game 5 in Phoenix.

Phoenix has lost just once at their home arena during this postseason, and considering how poorly they played (except for Ayton) they will have been absolutely ecstatic about pulling that one out to take the commanding 3-1 series lead. Just to put it in perspective, going back to the start of the NBA in the 1940s, teams up 3-1 in a series have gone on to win that series 251 out of 264 times, or about 95 percent. We like those odds for our top pick.

George has looked especially tuckered out for the Clippers, and with good reason considering the minutes he’s played. But he has also now put up 10 career playoff games where he’s shot 25 percent or worse, good for third-

most all-time in the league. I don’t see how that can improve considering he’s only going to get more tired as he plays more games and minutes.

Reggie Jackson actually looked human in Game 4 as well. Despite the fact that he put in 20 points, he shot 33 percent from the field and combined with PG to go 3-for-18 from beyond the arc. They weren’t the only ones playing poorly, though, as Paul and Devin Booker in the Suns’ backcourt struggled from the floor again. No, this one was all about the big men, and Phoenix has the best one left in the West.

Ayton was dominant again with 19 points and 22 rebounds, including a whopping nine of which came on the offensive end. The big man also blocked four shots as he returned to the paint dominance we saw in Games 1 and 2. Heading back to the Valley with a chance to punch their tickets, I’d expect coach Monty Williams to get the most out of his breakout star.

The Clippers had a great run this postseason, but without Kawhi Leonard, they were always going to fall short. A lot of times, in sports, it’s not about the talent, but the health of that talent during the stretch run, and the Suns have been one of the healthiest teams in these playoffs. We like them to close it out in five games with a cover on their -5.5 NBA point spread at -106 NBA odds as our best bet for today.

BET ON PHOENIX SUNS TO COVER -5.5 POINT SPREAD  (-106 odds, 10bet)

Game 6 (Suns lead series 3-2)

June 30, 09:00 p.m., Staples Center

(Playoff Betting Record: 40-36, +4.49)

The Los Angeles Clippers have fallen behind multiple games in each of the three series they’ve played in so far during this postseason. They went down 2-0 and 3-2 to the Dallas Mavericks in Round 1, came back to win four straight after going down 2-0 to the Utah Jazz in the Western Conference Semifinals, and have now been down 2-0 and 3-1 to the Phoenix Suns in these Western Conference FInals.

They completed a pair of improbable comebacks during those first two rounds, but the Suns are arguably the best and most complete team that they’ve played so far in these playoffs. The Mavs didn’t play defense, and the Jazz had an unhealthy reliance on the long ball that unsurprisingly came back to bite them.

Despite the wild circumstances of the first two rounds, the Clippers had never been down 3-1, which is pretty much a death sentence in the NBA. That’s where they found themselves on Monday night on the road in the desert, but once again, the Clips didn’t blink, and wunderkind head coach Tyronn Lue upped his record in elimination games to an astronomical and unprecedented 10-2. Damn shame we didn’t know that number before making our NBA pick for Game 5, huh?

Now that we do know, does that change who we like with our top pick for Game 6? No. For better or for worse, we’re sticking with the Suns on our NBA pick for Game 6 despite the fact that the series now moves back to the Clippers’ house, the Staples Center, in Los Angeles.

What makes Lue’s teams so difficult to beat with their backs against the wall is the zen and calmness under pressure that Lue exudes and which has infected the entire Clippers roster throughout this wild playoff run. What makes Lue’s teams so difficult to beat in general, is the maestro’s ability to identify mismatches and make the proper adjustments to his rotation or strategy at the most opportune times.

Lue did just that in Game 5. With big man Ivica Zubac—who had played very well over the past three games—out with a knee sprain, Lue employed an ingenious tactic to stunt the production and efficacy of Phoenix’s most effective weapon during this series: DeAndre Ayton.

When the seven-footer was on the floor, Lue used a small-ball lineup, which forced the lumbering Ayton to come out and defend on the three-point line, leaving the paint wide open for dribble drives and drive and kick moves. Chris Paul’s reluctance to give Ayton the ball in post-up situations when he’s got smaller defenders on him has been well-documented this season, and it came back to bite them again on Monday night.

Then, when Ayton came out, Lue countered with former All-NBA talent DeMarcus Cousins at center, and the big man responded by dominating Phoenix’s only other backup big, Dario Saric. Boogie imposed his will on the Croatian to the tune of 15 points on 7-for-12 shooting in just 11 minutes of floor time.

Ayton had by far his worst game of the series, contributing just 10 points on nine shots, though he was still solid on the glass, picking 11 boards, three of them offensive. However, it was clear that Lue’s clever rotation had worked its magic, because Ayton was a game-low -22 on the night. The plus-minus is not the end-all, be-all of stats, but in this case, it speaks to what L.A. was doing to the young big man.

While Lue did a great job with his tactics for Game 5, he also got help from none other than Chris Paul, who, if I didn’t know any better, I would’ve thought was sabotaging his team on Monday night. He shot a little bit better from the field, but once again, he was slowing down the pace far too much: the Suns have struggled all series to beat the Clippers’ halfcourt defense when it’s all set, instead finding immense success when they push the pace and run the floor.

To achieve that, coach Monty Williams will need to have a serious conversation with Paul about limiting him to about 30 or just under 30 minutes while boosting backup point guard Cameron Payne’s playing time a lot after he played just 13 minutes in Game 5. Clippers defenders cannot stay in front of the speedy Payne, and believe it or not, he has been much better and more decisive in the pick-and-roll and pressure situations  than Paul over the past couple of games.

Paul’s insistence on always being involved in every play and having every offensive move run through him is hurting his team, because it takes the rock out of the hands of their best player (Devin Booker) who gets cold just sitting in the corner while Paul dribbles the ball so much that it seems like he might give the court a Spalding tattoo.

Phoenix guards need to give Ayton the ball in the low-block and let him do some work in the post on offense when he has mismatches, Payne needs to play a lot more, and Paul needs to start understanding that while he may be the experienced leader here, this is Booker’s team, and he needs to be the guy to get this done for the Suns. We ‘re taking a Suns’ moneyline at toss-up -110 NBA odds as our best bet for today.

BET ON PHOENIX SUNS TO WIN  (-110 odds, 888sport)

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Alex is an alumnus of Ryerson University's RTA Sport Media program, a contributing NHL, NBA, and MLB writer in the BetPicks.ca team. He has been writing on sports, betting, and fantasy contests for several years, including pitstops as an NFL Editor for theScore and as one of the lead NBA news writers for fantasy sports site FantasyPros. As a lifelong athlete, bettor, and sports fan, Alex is uniquely qualified to help you reach the sports betting success that you've always dreamed of and your wife never believed you could achieve. Follow Alex on Twitter

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