The Phoenix Suns pummeled the Los Angeles Clippers in Game 6 of the Western Conference finals on Wednesday to punch a ticket to the NBA Finals for the first time since 1993, as L.A. failed to mount another comeback in the postseason. With All-Star and franchise centerpiece Kawhi Leonard's out for the entirety of the series with a knee injury, the Clippers always had their backs against the wall against a dominant Suns team.
Although Phoenix rarely looked challenged against the Clippers over the six-game series, L.A. forward Paul George doesn't think it would've gone the same way had Leonard been healthy. After the loss on Wednesday, George reflected on how the series could've ended differently.
"We'd be going on," George told reporters. "This series would be a lot different. Talk about one of the best players in the league being out, yet we were inches away from getting to the next round. So, definitely it's a 'what if' on this. Fact of the matter is we didn't do enough to win, and that's the reason we're going home."
George isn't wrong. Had Leonard been available and fully healthy, the Clippers might've won this series. The same could be true for every other team the Suns faced in the postseason this year. In the first round, Phoenix faced an injured Lakers team who were without Anthony Davis for a couple games. In the second round, the Denver Nuggets were down Jamal Murray, and the Clippers were without their most important player.
That's not a knock on the Suns. They still had to show up and beat the team in front of them and they did that handily on most occasions. But it is an interesting "what if" moment to think about had all those teams been fully healthy going up against Phoenix. Perhaps the Suns still make it to the NBA Finals, making their run even more impressive, or maybe they get ousted a round or two earlier. We'll never know the answer to those questions, but it's obvious this series would've been different tonally if Leonard was on the floor.
"I think we didn't get here for no reason," George said. "We had the pieces we needed. We just have pieces that got hurt during the process. It's really what is just came down to. We had the pieces to get to where we wanted to get to.
" ... I thought this team squeezed everything we could out of what we had. We squeezed everything out of one another, and I thought we got stronger and better as the season went on."
Looking forward, the Clippers should again be considered title contenders heading into next season, as long as Leonard decides to opt-in or sign a new contract with L.A. in the offseason. Being healthy will obviously be a major factor in what this team is ultimately able to accomplish, but a couple offseason moves to enhance this roster could also make them better than they were this year. The Clippers will also benefit from getting a full offseason after a condensed season with the bubble leading right into the 2020-21 season.