|Moneyline||+185 / -225|
|Time||Monday, 9 p.m. ET|
|Odds as of Sunday and via DraftKings|
The Phoenix Suns took a commanding 3-1 series lead after a slugfest in Game 4 and now look to advance to their first NBA Finals since 1993.
Can Paul George and the Clippers force a Game 6, or will the Suns advance and be just four wins away from their first NBA championship in franchise history?
Paul George is Wearing Down for Clippers
Tyronn Lue has been a masterful coach this postseason and has continued to make adjustments through each round of the playoffs. However, the one thing you cannot adjust for is fatigue.
With the injury to Kawhi Leonard (he’s already been ruled out for Game 5), the offensive load has been shouldered by Paul George. He’s played more minutes and seen higher usage rates throughout this series.
Out of the possible 768 minutes in the the postseason, Paul George has played 652 of them. Out of the possible 576 minutes in the last 23 days, George has played 495 of them. It's not a surprise to see him being unable to hit anything. It's just not sustainable.
— raheem palmer (@djrtodaizza) June 27, 2021
My colleague Raheem Palmer detailed the total minutes George has played this postseason, and after Game 4 George has now played in 695 minutes and averaged 40.9 minutes per game, per Basketball Reference. This is extremely taxing, and he’s playing roughly seven minutes more per game now than during the regular season, while being the primary option on offense. He’s shot just five for thirty (16.6%) from 3-point range over the last three games, and it’s as if his legs are just tired.
This is an issue for the Clippers. While they have scored 120.8 points per 100 possessions in the playoffs, they’ve only mustered 109.4 points per 100 against the Suns, per Cleaning the Glass. They’ve scored fewer points, and seen their eFG% drop by about 4% from their postseason average. The Suns are a significantly better defensive team than the Mavericks or the Nuggets, but it can also be a result from fatigue.
The Clippers are still surviving by the skin of their teeth, and it seems that they’ve figured out the best way for Ivica Zubac to be on the floor. He has a 9.7 Net Rating for the series with a 16.7 Net Rating over the last two games, per NBA Advanced Stats. His influence on the defensive end has helped limit the Suns’ guards.
One of the wildest stats from this series is that Chris Paul, Devin Booker and Cameron Payne are a combined 12-of-45 (26.7%) when defended by Ivica Zubac, according to the NBA's tracking data.
— Justin Russo (@FlyByKnite) June 27, 2021
Some of this may be that Chris Paul was rusty, Devin Booker has a broken nose, and Cameron Payne also is dealing with a bit of an ankle injury, but Zubac has disrupted them enough that the Clippers have held the Suns to fewer than 100 points in the last two games (92 and 84). Expect to see another big game from Zubac who has played about 35.5 minutes in Games 2 through 4 after logging just 18 minutes in Game 1.
Suns Need to Run More Through Ayton
Cameron Payne returned from injury for Game 4, and while he was able to log 20 minutes, he was just 2 of 8 from the field and struggled to get going on offense. If Payne can return to form and be a reliable weapon off the bench, this dramatically improves the Suns’ offense.
The Suns have thrived by running their offense through Deandre Ayton, and it’s a bit surprising he has not had even greater point totals in these games. What is perplexing is why the Suns have almost turned away from him in the second half of games throughout the postseason.
By period, here are Ayton’s Net Ratings: 14.3, 18.4, 1.1, -2.9. He is dominating early in games, but then the Suns turn away from him down the stretch, and it’s detrimental to the team.
He’s averaging 9.4 points in the first half of games and taking more shots than in the second half even though he plays more minutes in the second half of games. He has been an absolute menace for the Clippers to deal with, and even though we have seen his usage increase throughout this series, the Suns should keep punishing the Clippers on the interior in the hopes they can get Zubac in foul trouble and force the Clippers to play small, or even better, Boogie Cousins.
One of the strange things about this series is that the Suns actually have been outscored by the Clippers and would be losing in aggregate 403-400, yet they’re up 3 games to 1 with a chance to close out this series and earn a NBA Finals berth. That tells you just how close this series has been even though the results of the games themselves have been a bit lopsided.
One thing that’s concerning to me is that the Clippers have made just 34.8% of their 3-point shots this series, down from 41.8% during the regular season, per Cleaning the Glass. The difference here is the quality of shot.
The Suns are getting more pressure on the perimeter, and their rotations are cleaner and swifter than most teams. This has lead to a decrease in not only Wide Open 3s (>6 feet between the shooter and closest defender), but a downturn in the Clippers’ shooting percentages on both Wide Open 3s and Open 3s (4-6 feet).
The Clippers are getting about three fewer Wide Open 3s, and they are shooting a combined 35.8% on these Open attempts. This is a significant downturn from their regular-season number of 42.7% on those attempts, per NBA Advanced Stats. The Suns make you work for clean looks, and given the fatigue to the Clippers best players, this is not a spot I expect improvement from in a critical Game 5.
I fully intend on playing some Deandre Ayton props given his usage this series, but I’m turning to the spread for this game. The 5.5 is a larger spread but over the last five years, favorites in Games 5-7 of the Conference Finals are 12-5 ATS, covering by an average margin of 4.29 points. Given the stakes and the way the Suns have played, I think this is the end of the road for the Clippers, and the Suns will await the winner of Bucks vs Hawks in the Finals.
Pick: Suns -5.5