Paul and Kawhi out of Game 1 as Clippers make Conference Finals bow
The Los Angeles Clippers will be without their best player and missing a familiar face in the opposition in their Conference Finals debut.
Chris Paul and Kawhi Leonard – Los Angeles Clippers superstars past and present – will both be absent as the team enter the Western Conference Finals for the first time.
The Clippers play Paul's Phoenix Suns in Game 1 on Sunday, having battled past the top-seeded Utah Jazz.
Leonard and Co became the first team in playoff history to overturn 2-0 deficits twice in the same postseason, having recovered first against the Dallas Mavericks and then against the Jazz.
The Game 6 win over Utah at Staples Center was the Clippers' eighth in this playoff campaign – a team record.
However, they were without two-time NBA Finals MVP Leonard for Game 5 and Game 6 due to a knee injury that is reportedly feared to be serious.
The five-time All-Star had been averaging 30.4 points per game in the postseason but remains out for the trip to Phoenix.
Paul is missing for the Suns, too, though, due to covid-19 health and safety protocols. As with Leonard, this means an indefinite spell on the sidelines.
Sixteen-year veteran Paul is considered among the Clippers' greatest ever players, having spent six seasons in LA.
In the regular season, he has the most assists in Clippers history (4,023), ranks sixth for points (7,674) and eighth for minutes (13,885).
Booker: "Control what we can control"
"Control what we can control," Suns team-mate Devin Booker said. "Obviously Chris is in the health and safety protocols and we don't know the timetable on that, so we just go with what we hear day to day. It's next man up."
Next man up would appear to be Cameron Payne, the back-up point guard who has only one start across the regular season and playoffs since moving to Phoenix in 2019.
In 20.4 minutes per game in the postseason, Payne has averaged 10.2 points but just 2.9 assists, although he and Paul have been on the floor together for 54 of the 26-year-old's 204 playoff minutes this year.
For the Clippers, Paul George has come to the fore since Leonard's injury, scoring 37 points at Utah in Game 5 – his highest playoff output for LA and tied for the second-highest of his career.
He will have to continue to perform, as coach Ty Lue said of Leonard: "I know [he is out for] Game 1 for sure. Right now he's back home getting treatment. We're not sure about Game 2 yet.
"Until he gets back, we can't do hypotheticals if he's coming back, what game. We have to prepare like he's not playing, just kind of go from there."