Future Hall of Fame point guard Chris Paul notably has never played in an NBA Finals, but he can get his Phoenix Suns within one game of that Thursday night as Paul is expected to return from COVID protocols for Game 3 of the Western Conference Finals at the Los Angeles Clippers. He is set at Over/Under 17.5 points. L.A. opened as a short favorite on the William Hill Sportsbook NBA odds, but Paul's return now has Phoenix as a 1-point favorite to take a commanding 3-0 series lead. Kawhi Leonard will not play again for the Clips. Click here for model's Game 3 pick.
The Suns are on a franchise playoff record nine-game winning streak and obviously are that much better with Paul, but backup Cameron Payne has been sensational in the first two games starting in Paul's place. The former journeyman castoff had 11 points, nine assists and three rebounds in Game 1 and then blew up with a career-playoff-high 29 points along with nine assists in Game 2. Payne has just one turnover in 56 minutes of play in the West Finals.
Sorry, but Paul can't do much better than that. For what it's worth in the regular season, Paul averaged 18.7 points, 6.3 rebounds and 6.3 assists in three games vs. the Clippers, a franchise Paul played for from 2011-17.
Wednesday marked the sixth day that Paul remained isolated from the team – he was in Los Angeles -- because of the NBA's coronavirus-related mandates. Normally, a positive COVID test as Paul had would require 10-14 days of quarantine at a minimum, but there are different standards for vaccinated players, of which Paul is one. He also has been asymptomatic and passed a cardio exam on Wednesday. Barring some unforeseen issue, Paul will play tonight.
Paul this week, incidentally, declined to play for Team USA at the Olympics. That basketball competition will start very shortly after the NBA Finals end.
If there is such a thing as being comfortable down 2-0 in a playoff series, the Clippers will be because they rallied from that deficit in each of the first two rounds vs. Dallas and Utah. L.A. became the only team in NBA history to overcome multiple 2-0 deficits and win in the same postseason. Of course, the Clippers had Leonard to help come back in those series (four of the six vs. Utah), but he will sit a fifth straight game Thursday with a knee injury.
This series would likely be tied 1-1 if Paul George didn't miss two free throws with 8.2 seconds left in Game 2 on Tuesday; make those, and the Clippers lead 105-102. Instead, the Suns of course won on an epic alley-oop dunk by Deandre Ayton with under a second left. George was an 86.8 percent free-throw shooter in the regular season and had only ONCE gone 0-for-2 from the line in one turn there: Feb. 21 in the third quarter vs. Brooklyn. George went 2-for-2 a combined 104 times.
There are no free-throw props available on players at William Hill if you were wondering. George is set at Over/Under 30.5 points. He topped that in Game 1 but not Game 2.
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