The Phoenix Suns struggled through the last two games with Chris Paul’s shoulder issues, only to watch the injury pendulum swing back their way Sunday.
Los Angeles Lakers power forward Anthony Davis crumpled to the deck in pain late in the second quarter, falling from an unsuccessful drive attempt with Jae Crowder defending. Davis immediately grabbed his left leg and headed to the dressing room, where he remained after intermission as Los Angeles’ medical staff ascertained the severity of the injury.
The Lakers announced just minutes later that Davis would sit the remainder of the game due to a left groin strain. The Suns went on to claim a 100-92 victory over the Lakers in Game 4, evening their first-round series at 2-2.
The timeline for Davis’ recovery now likely factors heavily into how the rest of this best-of-seven series goes.
“We’ve got to understand that we have enough [to win without Davis],” Lakers coach Frank Vogel told ESPN during a fourth-quarter interview.
What they definitely can’t afford to do is let Davis’ strained groin drastically affect them the rest of the series the way it did in Game 4 at the Staples Center.
It was as if Davis’ second-half absence siphoned away some of Los Angeles’ resolve.
Already playing with a sprained left knee that left him questionable for Sunday’s action, Davis told reporters Saturday during a Zoom session that “there’s no chance that I don’t go tomorrow.” Davis battled through a first half that featured 14 lead changes, scoring six points while shooting 2-for-9 from the floor with four rebounds, three assists, a steal and a blocked shot.
Los Angeles trailed by just one when Davis dropped to the floor in agony.
From there, Phoenix built an eventual 18-point lead by starting out the third quarter on an 8-2 run. With Davis in the locker room receiving a diagnosis from the Lakers medical staff, Deandre Ayton scored four quick points during the run, in addition to gobbling up a pair of rebounds. The Suns big man racked up seven points on 3-for-4 shooting in the third quarter to go with five rebounds as Phoenix outscored the Lakers 27-15.
Ayton finished with 14 points and 17 boards on 6-for-8 shooting.
Davis’ second-half absence reminded us all just how important it is for star players to be available to lead their teams during the postseason. The eight-time All-Star had already missed half the regular season due to right calf and heel issues.
Paul, meanwhile, bruised his right shoulder in the first half of Phoenix’s series-opening win over the Lakers. The injury drastically cut into Paul’s production, as he scored just 13 points (shooting 5-for-13 from the floor) and didn’t even attempt to hoist up a 3-pointer over Games 2 and 3 combined.
Phoenix coach Monty Williams elected to sit Paul for the majority of the fourth quarter of Games 2 and 3. The point guard watched from the bench over the last 7:01 during Tuesday’s Game 2, in addition to the final 9:34 of Thursday’s Game 3 loss to Los Angeles.
Ahead of Game 4, Paul sat out of practice and rested.
According to a report from ESPN’s Rachel Nichols, Paul’s ability for Sunday turned into a true game time decision because Williams needed the point guard to prove the club wouldn’t be better served dispersing his minutes to some of the team’s other perimeter players. Williams also needed assurance from the Phoenix medical staff that Paul’s participation wouldn’t worsen his injury.
In just three quarters of action, Paul matched his production from the two previous games with 14 points (5-10 FGs), before finishing the game with a team-high 18 points, nine assists and three steals for a Phoenix squad that featured five additional double-figure scorers in Crowder (17 points), Ayton, Devin Booker (17 points), Mikal Bridges (11 points) and Cameron Payne (13 points).
“Guys on both sides are banged up. It’s the playoffs,” Paul said in his postgame interview. “It’s been a lot going on. [I] met with coach before the game. He told me he was gonna sit me tonight. I told him, ‘Hell, nah. Just give me a couple of minutes, see what I can do.’”
Now, it’s time to see what Davis might be able to contribute for the duration of this series, which resumes Tuesday at Phoenix Suns Arena (10 ET, TNT).
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Michael C. Wright is a senior writer for NBA.com. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.
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