Chris Paul has been the story of the season for the Phoenix Suns, mostly for good reasons.

In the second round of the NBA playoffs against the Denver Nuggets, he lit the world on fire from the mid-range, hitting at an unbelievable rate from a challenging zone on the floor. Between the end of that round and the beginning of the Conference Finals, however, things went sideways for both him and his team.

After Chris Paul’s mid-range shooting display carried the Phoenix Suns in the second round, his Conference Finals struggles are putting his team at risk.

In the lead-up to the Western Conference Finals against the LA Clippers, Paul was ruled out indefinitely due to Covid protocols. He had tested positive for Covid and managed to make a return to the court after missing just two games.

The Suns managed to jump out to a big 2-0 lead, but trailing by two games is nothing new to the Clippers in these playoffs. They came back from 0-2 down against the Dallas Mavericks in the first round, and again against the Utah Jazz in the second round. When Paul was cleared to return for Game 3, it seemed like maybe the Clippers had run out of luck.

Cameron Payne had filled it magnificently for Paul as the starting point guard, especially in Game 2 with a 29-point effort in a one-point win, but he sprained his left ankle in Game 3. Even though Payne has been back in the lineup since and didn’t miss a game as a result, he hasn’t been the same since suffering this injury.

With a diminished Payne, Paul’s slow return to action has been a critical weakness for the Suns. After averaging 25.5 points per game and shooting a scintillating 62.7 percent from the floor and 75.0 percent from 3-point range against the Nuggets, his numbers have fallen right off a cliff in this series. In his three games of action, he’s averaging 18.3 points per game while shooting an awful 31.7 percent from the floor and 12.5 percent from 3-point range.

Whether Paul is on or off the floor since his return, the Suns’ offense has been dreadful. When he’s on the floor, the Suns have a woeful offensive rating of 97.7. For comparison, this season the OKC Thunder had the worst offense, and they had an offensive rating of 102.8. When Paul is off the floor, they’re even worse with an offensive rating of 91.5.

It’s not fair to pin all these scoring issues on Paul, however, especially over such a small sample. In fact, his teammates have struggled too. Devin Booker is averaging 23.7 points per game in the last three outings, but shooting just 33.8 percent from the floor and 27.8 percent from long range.

The Clippers deserve a ton of credit for being the most never-say-die team in NBA history, and head coach Ty Lue deserves credit for his defensive schemes and adjustments that really turn the screws on opposing teams as the series go on.

Chris Paul may not be the source of his team’s struggles, but if the Phoenix Suns are going to hold off this zombie squad of undying LA Clippers, he’s running out of time to find a way to be the solution.

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