There's an unspoken tradition when it comes to basketball fans watching a series in the NBA Playoffs. It's not something we are proud of, but it's also something that we have to do in order to fill our basketball obsession. Something that allows us to fill the space in time between each upcoming game, as we try to increase the speed at which our daily lives go by. So what is it that we do? We overreact.
That's right, we overreact about every detail after a specific game. Playoff obsession is a whole other type of monster. Especially when you want to focus on talking about one specific series. Personally, I always find that the first game of the playoffs is where we reach "full-tilt" when it comes to the overreaction meter. I believe it's because the buildup and anticipation of the playoffs finally arriving outweighs the realistic nature that is the first playoff game of the year. That being said, after two games I find myself locked in on this series between the Los Angeles Lakers and Phoenix Suns.
It's no secret that the entire basketball world was most fascinated with this series. We know the storylines. Defending champs limp to the playoffs and have to face the uphill battle of being the 7th seed to defend their crown. But that team is also going up against a young Phoenix Suns squad that is oozing in confidence. After two games we know this series is going to be as great as we expected, but there's a number of developing storylines that I think deserve some discussion.
There's no denying this is the most important storyline moving forward, especially for the Phoenix Suns fan base. Ever since Paul's injury to his shoulder in Game 1, CP3 just hasn't looked the same. This could be a classic instance in which the Suns are trying to keep the injury concern close to the chest. If anything, Game 2 gave us some serious reasons for caution moving forward. The shoulder has definitely become a problem, and it's not a secret. Since the moment in which CP3 returned to the floor in Game 1, you can tell that something is seriously off. Immediately, Paul lost his handle on one of the first possessions since returning, and he has looked hesitant with his shot. It's not surprising, especially after Paul revealed that he heard a "crack" after the injury happened.
It's become one of the most annoying occurrences in the NBA as of late...Chris Paul suffering an injury in an important playoff series. After finishing with just 8 attempts during 36 MIN in Game 1, Paul finished last night's game with 5 attempts in 23 minutes of action. Now obviously last night we can say that the impressive play of crucial bench piece Cameron Payne may have been a major factor of CP3s minutes downsize. But the Suns can't expect to get 19 points on a nightly basis from Cam Payne. If this shoulder injury is as bad as some of us might fear, then the Suns are going to need to figure out a way to replicate his production when it comes to scoring output. This leads us to...
WHO PICKS UP THE SLACK FOR PHX
This is the storyline that Phoenix Suns fans need to focus on moving forward. Let's just say that CP3's shoulder injury is something that is going to continue to linger throughout this series. Obviously, we shouldn't expect many 20+ point performances from Paul. If that's the case, then the production offensively needs to be replaced in some form. Devin Booker has been sensational for the Suns in the first two games, finishing with 34 PTS (Game 1) and 31 PTS (Game 2) while shooting it at a high percentage. Deandre Ayton has been outstanding as well, but more on him in a bit. After that, the Suns are lacking some consistent production across the board.
Cameron Payne was almost an unexpected hero in Game 2, but it's tough to expect that type of performance from Payne on a nightly basis. If Phoenix is going to need to find some more offense, there's a couple of players they might need to start to look towards. Cameron Johnson could be an option, although Johnson is more known for his ability as a three-point spacing asset. Johnson only attempted 4 shots last night, finishing with 6 points. Jae Crowder has had his fair share of big performances in the playoffs, but his streakiness is something that might stress caution. A name that I can't personally get out of my head moving forward is Mikal Bridges. Now, this Phoenix Suns team loves Mikal for what he does on the defensive side of the floor. He's one of the top rising young talents in this league and he's only going to continue to get better. Bridges is a fantastic defensive asset, but this might be a time in which the Suns need to have him try to create some more offensive touches moving forward. Bridges struggled to get going in Game 2, finishing the game with only 6 attempts, but he has the ability to be a strong punch alongside Booker and Ayton. Could this be a time in which the Suns ask for Bridges to be more assertive on the offensive side of the ball? Possibly. It would seem like a strong bet if Phoenix realizes that Paul might not be 100% for the rest of the series.
LEBRON JAMES AND ANTHONY DAVIS
After a "disappointing" performance from the Los Angeles Lakers star duo in Game 1, we all patiently waited for the "statement" performance last night. The dynamic duo delivered, and now we find this series tied up heading back to LA. LeBron stepped up as we expected him to, finishing Game 2 with 23 PTS on 9/16 shooting (56.3%), pitching in 4 rebounds and 9 assists in 39 MIN. The bigger development was Anthony Davis, who responded in a big way after a lackluster Game 1 performance. AD finished Game 2 with 34 PTS on 7/15 shooting, adding 10 REB, 7 AST, and 3 BLK as well. One of the most interesting developments was AD's ability to get to the line in Game 2, where he finished 18/21 from the charity stripe.
This Lakers team has been all over the map during the last month of the season. As they progress in this series and try to find their groove, it's no secret that these two stars are going to have to do much of the heavy lifting in order to see LA potentially move on to the next round of the Western Conference. Consistency is going to be crucial, and there's going to be minimal room for error with these two. But if the Lakers can get this type of performance from the combination of James and Davis, they are going to be a tough beat against ANY team.
The Andre Drummond situation for this Los Angles Lakers team has been such a fascinating development especially early in this series. After Game 1 there was some serious concern as to whether or not the Lakers were better off with Drummond off the floor, especially against the smaller Suns lineups. It wasn't as if Drummond wasn't producing in the box scores, but the flow of the game seemed to be off with Drummond on the court. Game 2 was a different story, as Drummond finished with an efficient 15 PTS, 12 REB, and 2 STL in 24 MIN of action.
Drummond will be a storyline to monitor moving forward, as teams always look to make adjustments between games to look for potential mismatches or advantages throughout the series. If Drummond wants to make a positive impact for this Lakers team moving forward in this opening-round series, it's going to be by slowing down Phoenix Suns big man Deandre Ayton. Ayton has definitely turned some heads with his performance in the first two games.
I always like to find myself taking notes of interesting "subplots" throughout an NBA playoff series and the Lakers rotation has been something that has caught my attention as of late. There's no denying that the Lakers have two obvious players that are going to be on the floor when it matters the most in Anthony Davis and LeBron James. Hopefully, for sanity's sake, we all agree on that factor or else we need to have a serious discussion and potentially need to get someone to an eye doctor immediately. After that, I'm still trying to figure out what's the best lineup that the Lakers roll with when it comes to crunch time. I think there's becoming a serious argument that a guy like Alex Caruso would get the nod in a close game, just because of his combination of defensive ability, effort, and basketball IQ. From there, I still think Dennis Schroder gets the nod, even if he's had a recent history of some ups-and-downs when it comes to performing on a consistent basis. From there I think that's when the conversation gets interesting.
At the beginning of the year, I thought a guy like Montrezl Harrell would have been an easy selection to get the nod just for his passion and rebounding impact. But Harrell has been a confusing player to monitor as of late. After playing 14 MIN in Game 1, and finishing with 12 PTS on 4/5 shooting, Harrell was a DNP-CD in Game 2. So that's definitely interesting...From there I would think that a guy like Kentavious Caldwell-Pope might get the nod, mainly due to his ability on the defensive side of the ball. It's always fascinating to look at a situation like KCP, who finished last night's game with 0 PTS on 0/4 shooting in 34 MIN but lead the Lakers in +/- at 19. One name that I think needs to get a little more attention is Marc Gasol, who gave the Lakers some big timely buckets last night despite finishing the game with 6 points in 19 MIN. Gasol isn't the player that he was years ago, but he's a type of presence that makes plays in moments that are needed for a tough playoff series. Gasol was also a DNP-CD in Game 1, but I'll be interested to see if he gets some more playing time as this series progresses.
It's always an amazing development in the playoffs when a young talent starts to spread his wings and turn into the player that so many thought they would. That's just what is happening with Phoenix Suns young big man Deandre Ayton. Heading into this series, there was plenty of developing storylines that got a lot of attention. Personally, I thought that the performance of Ayton was going to be the swing factor in this showdown against the Lakers. Obviously, I wasn't expecting the Chris Paul injury, like everyone else, but let's stay with the big fella for a bit.
Ayton has been brilliant so far and has started to show signs of why he was the first overall selection in the 2018 NBA Draft. In two games so far, Ayton is averaging 21.5 PTS, and 13 REB while shooting 91.6% from the floor. Now take a moment to take those numbers in because they are absolutely chaotic. Of course, Ayton is most likely not going to be able to keep this type of production up over the course of a 7 game series, but it's still an eye-opening development. The problem for the Suns is that Ayton is doing all he possibly can to carry the load offensively, and it's hard for any of us to ask for Ayton to do more. After doing a fantastic job slowing down Anthony Davis in Game 1, AD got rolling in Game 2. It's hard to criticize Ayton too much for that performance, as great players in this league are simply going to have their nights. All you can do is try to make life on the court as difficult as possible and accept the results and regroup for the next game. If Phoenix wants to continue to advance in the playoffs, Deandre Ayton is going to have to be a big reason why, especially with the developing issues that are arising. The only question going forward is which complementary piece will step up to the plate and help Ayton and Booker along the way.