Phoenix Suns blame game: 3 players who need to step up

Phoenix Suns, Chris Paul (Photo by Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports)
Phoenix Suns, Chris Paul (Photo by Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports) /

When Paul George does what Paul George did on Monday night — I saw it; I was there and it was dominant — the Phoenix Suns need someone to rise above their personal bar.

Too many wasted possessions and lackadaisical rotations in the first half led to LA Clippers buckets — and extended a lead that caused the Suns to expend way too much energy on their collection of comebacks.

They still need quite a few things to go right to reach the NBA Finals.

The three most prominent Phoenix Suns who need to step up could sent their franchise to the NBA Finals for the first time since 1993.

If coach Monty Williams can’t unlock the secret to a better start, Suns fans will be in desperation mode on Friday night for a dreaded Game 7. It’s time to end the Clippers’ comeback now, on Wednesday night.

Phoenix Suns need Mikal Bridges

It’s not enough that Mikal Bridges puts in the intense effort he has put in on the defensive end. He has to become more active in several phases for the Suns to succeed in Game 6.

First, where is the slashing and disruptive force Suns fans have seen the past five months or so?

When Chris Paul pounds the air out of the ball, hoping to create something magical as the shot clock ticks toward zero, Bridges frequently is standing on the 3-point line waiting for his defender to sag into the lane.

That would be fine — except for the fact that Bridges is not hitting his 3s consistently. What do you do when your long-range game stinks? You drive — or cut — to the hole and make something happen.

It’s time for Bridges to turn on the aggressiveness in LA.

Phoenix Suns need Deandre Ayton

Sure, Deandre Ayton has been perhaps the primary reason for the Suns’ postseason success, but in Game 5 he sometimes was overlooked — and sometimes didn’t do enough to make himself “big” in the paint.

He was the beneficiary of several defensive switches that left overmatched defenders from Nic Batum and Marcus Morris Sr. all the way down to Patrick Beverley.

Paul didn’t try hard enough on those isolation opportunities, certainly, but Ayton has to pin the mouse-in-the-house defender and scream for the ball.

And once he gets the ball, he needs to STOP FADING AWAY on his paint opportunities.

The potential to wreck the Clippers is there, and Ayton showed what he can do in Game 4.

Ayton had another double-double on Monday night in Game 5, but the offense needed to include him much, much earlier in the game. Establish that focus, and then allow Ayton to make the decision on a short jump hook or a pass back out to an open shooter.

The Clippers had 58 points in the paint; the Suns only 32.

Things have to change.

Phoenix Suns need a healthy Cameron Payne

Oh, boy, do they ever.

Payne very likely is still not over the sprained ankle that kept knocked him out of Game 3 and slowed him during Game 4.

He doesn’t have the same trademark explosiveness and, worse, has tried to make things happen.

That’s not his job.

While Chris Paul sits, Payne has to manage the game and prove calming leadership. Too many indecisive moments during offensive sets showed Payne has been temporarily figured out by maestro Ty Lue, the Clippers’ head coach.

If the Clippers were the more desperate team in Game 5, then the Suns have to at least equal that level of desperation in Game 6 and Payne must provide 10-15 reliable minutes in Paul’s absence.

It didn’t help that Paul was 0-6 from 3-point range — or that Payne hit only 2 of his 6 attempts from the field. But the ball has to move more quickly on Wednesday; the Clippers had 19 fast-break points to the Suns’ eight.

That ain’t right, but all that said, it took a pretty complete version of this Kawhi Leonard-less Clippers team to stave off elimination.

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George was 15-for-20, with 20 points coming in the third quarter; Morris his 9 of his 13 field-goal attempts while Reggie Jackson and DeMarcus Cousins combined to go 15-for-26.

That’s a pretty perfect recipe for an LA victory.

The Suns just can’t make it easy on the Clippers — and with three key players stepping up, that shouldn’t be a problem.