I have no idea how healthy Chris Paul is entering Game 5 of the NBA Finals. I'm not a doctor, and even if you are, he is obviously going to keep a tight lid on his condition until this series concludes. However, if you're betting on Game 5 or the series as a whole, you're likely doing so based in part on your perception of Paul's health, so I'll just lay out what we know at this stage and let you make up your own minds:
- Paul suffered what is believed to be a right shoulder stinger in Game 1 of the Phoenix Suns' first-round series against the Los Angeles Lakers.
- Paul revealed after Game 6 of the Western Conference finals that he had partially torn ligaments in his right hand.
- Paul shoots 12 of 19 from the field in Game 1 to score 32 points in a victory over the Milwaukee Bucks. If he's injured at this stage, he certainly appears capable of playing through it.
- Paul's shot total (20 to 14 to 13) declines over each of the next three games. After playing 41:28 in Game 2, his highest total of the postseason, he dips to 33:40 in Game 3, his lowest since Game 2 against the Nuggets in the second round (though Game 3 was not close by the fourth quarter). Paul then plays 15:30 in the first half of Game 4, the fewest minutes of any Phoenix starter, and makes only one of his four shot attempts in that time. He rebounds to play over 21 minutes in the second half and shoot a more respectable 4 of 9. However, he has committed 15 turnovers in the past three games after committing 16 in his previous 11 games combined.
- When asked about his health before Game 5, he said "I'm good."
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Again, I am no doctor, but my guess is that he is indeed fighting through an injury, but it is not one so severe that we should expect struggles as significant as what we saw in Game 4. After all, Paul's struggles spanned the entire game. There did not to be any sort of inciting incident that would have aggravated the injury, and he still shot well in Games 2 and 3. Jrue Holiday generates quite a few turnovers no matter who he's guarding. The truest indicator of an injury's subjectively speaking, is in his 3-point volume. Paul averaged 6.2 3-point attempts per game in his first five games out of the health and safety protocols. He's down to 3.7 in his last three, including only two in Game 4. Paul has missed short quite a bit in this series, which is often a sign of tired legs. In Paul's case, it might have more to do with his ability to get the ball that far with an injured hand, but this is entirely speculation.
If you're betting on the Suns, ask yourself this: Do you think they can win if Paul is bad again? Considering how close Game 4 was, you'd probably say the answer is yes now that they're home again. If you're betting on the Bucks, ask yourself this: Do you think they can win if Paul is as great as he was in Game 1? That's a tougher question. Milwaukee has solved quite a bit over the last three games, and Giannis Antetokounmpo is meaningfully healthier than he was when the series opened. The truth for Paul is probably going to come somewhere in between, but don't make a bet if you're reliant on a health outcome we can't predict. Anything is possible in Game 5. Here are the best bets for Saturday's game.
All lines via William Hill Sportsbook
Phoenix Suns vs. Milwaukee Bucks
- I picked the Suns in Game 4 not necessarily because I believed they would win, but because I believed the game would be close and that having the points would make the difference. Late-game free throws ensured that they weren't, but the principle was sound. Game 4 of the Finals was tied with under 90 seconds remaining. At this point, it appears as if these teams have figured one another out and the winner will be the team that makes more difficult shots. I'd likely lean Phoenix in that scenario, but I'm taking the points at this stage in a very competitive series. The pick: Bucks +4
- The point total decreased from 226 in Game 2 to 220 in Game 3 to 209 in Game 4. Late-stage Finals games tend to be low-scoring. By that point in the series, defenses have figured out how to stop an offense's primary actions, and their success hinges on how capable they are of adjusting. Devin Booker and Khris Middleton scoring 40 points is not an adjustment, it's an outlier. Trust these two excellent defenses in Game 5: The pick: Under 219
- Brook Lopez has sadly proven to be a poor fit in this series, and while Bobby Portis has his moments, he's been more valuable at home, where he can feed off the energy of the crowd. Pat Connaughton hasn't been starting games, but he's essentially become the fifth Buck in terms of minutes. He's averaging 30.9 of them in the Finals and done well with the opportunity. He had 21 combined points, rebounds and assists in Game 4 after getting to 22 in Game 2. He's going to get a meaningful number of shots simply by virtue of sharing the floor with P.J. Tucker, who rarely shoots, and he's rebounded very well in this series against a Suns team that has been mediocre on that front all season. Trust his minutes volume and activity to keep yielding positive results. The pick: Connaughton over 18.5 combined points, rebounds and assists