I cite the following trend not as a definitive stance on my position, but simply to inform those considering betting on Game 6 Wednesday night. In the three games Chris Paul has played in this series, the Phoenix Suns are scoring only 97.7 points per 100 possessions with him on the floor. When he goes to the bench? Their offense jumps up to 112.5 points per 100 possessions. Again, I am not saying Chris Paul makes the Suns worse, but for a variety of reasons, I do think his presence has made life a little bit easier on the Los Angeles Clippers.
For starters, the Suns play faster without Paul. That is often true of Paul teams. He is among the NBA's most deliberate players, and usually, the results are so good in the half court that it doesn't matter. But remember, the Clippers are about to play their 15th game in 29 days. They are exhausted and likely don't want to play fast. Paul's slower game is helpful in that sense, and so is his switch-hunting. Phoenix as a whole tends to turn mismatches into mid-range jumpers more than layups, but Paul and Devin Booker have combined to shoot 26 of 70 from mid-range in this series. Nobody is objecting to Chris Paul shooting from the mid-range, but it's simply a higher-variance look than the layups teams prefer to play for out of switches. The Clippers have so little rim protection without Ivica Zubac that most teams would be gunning for the rim on every possession. The Suns averaged 57 paint points per game in the first two games of this series, but they're down to 38.7 over the past three.
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This is still Chris Paul we're talking about. He could very easily destroy the Clippers tonight with mid-range dagger after mid-range dagger and send the Suns to the Finals. But I'm looking for explanations for the Clippers lasting six games in this series without Kawhi Leonard, and I think Paul's style might have something to do with it. There's nothing objectively wrong with it, but it seems like the sort of basketball the Clippers want to be playing. With that in mind, let's dive into Game 6's top picks.
All lines via William Hill Sportsbook
Los Angeles Clippers vs. Phoenix Suns
- The thing that should terrify the Suns entering Game 6 is that the Clippers won Game 5 despite getting outshot from behind the arc. Phoenix made 34.6 percent of its 3-pointers. The Clippers made 33.3 percent of theirs. The volume was similar. Remember, the Clippers were perhaps the greatest jump-shooting team in NBA history during the regular season. One of the theoretical advantages of small ball is that it puts the most possible shooting on the floor, and they combined to make 36 3s in their last two wins over Utah even without Kawhi Leonard. The 10 they made in Game 5 were tied for the second-fewest of their entire postseason run. The Clippers won Game 5 by 14 points, and aside from Paul George, they didn't even play particularly well on offense. Going home for Game 6, we should expect a better shooting night for the Clippers as they attempt to force a Game 7. The pick: Clippers PK (-110)
- Anyone who reads this column consistently knows that Reggie Jackson has hit the over on his point total in all seven playoff games Kawhi Leonard has missed. Vegas is finally catching on, and his total is above 20 for Game 6. Fine. I'm still taking the over. Jackson has hit this line in five of the seven games Leonard has missed. Until he goes cold, keep riding him. The pick: Jackson over 20.5 points
- Expect the Suns to place more of an emphasis on running their offense after getting sucked into too much iso-ball in Game 5. The Suns averaged 26.9 assists per game in the regular season, but they had just 22 in Game 5. I'm expecting double-digit assists from Chris Paul in Game 6 as he attempts to get more players involved. He and Devin Booker took just under half of Phoenix's total attempts in Game 5 (41 of 84). That has to change. The pick: Paul over 8.5 assists