The Phoenix Suns were already under pressure heading into Game 3, losing homecourt after falling in Game 1 against the Los Angeles Clippers. Now with the Clippers’ best player on the sidelines, Game 3 has gone from an opportunity to steal to a must-win for the Suns in the first round of the NBA Western Conference Playoffs.
Losing game one of a playoff series is never good; this is especially true if you are the home team, and homecourt advantage goes out the window with the loss. After a difficult game one defeat, the Phoenix Suns rebounded in game two and now have been awarded a gift from the basketball gods.
Leonard has been the best of the best thus far
During the first two games, the best play on the court was Kawhi Leonard. Although Kevin Durant had his moments and Devin Booker was incredible in game two, Leonard has been the most dominant force through the first two games. At 34.5 points per game, Leonard is the leading scorer in the series, and with 6 assists, 6.5 rebounds, and 8.5 free throw attempts per night, Kawhi has been doing it all for LA.
Now with Leonard set to miss game three and Paul George still out as well, the Suns have an opportunity to take back homecourt, but even more than an opportunity, this is a must-win game for Phoenix.
Phoenix must win Game 3 with Leonard out
When you go on the road in a playoff series, the goal is to win at least one game, so you can either leverage home-court advantage or take it back, as Phoenix needs to do. In this situation, winning either can suffice, but with the Clippers’ two best players out for Game 3, the Suns will never have a better chance to beat the Clippers.
Leonard and George averaged more than 47 points combined during the regular season, which leaves a lot of scoring slack for the Clippers to make up in Game 3. That said, the Clippers do have seven other players who average at least 10 points per night, including Norman Powell (17) and former League MVP Russell Westbrook (15.8).
However, even if Westbrook goes back to his glory days and goes for 40 and Powell goes for 30, can the other five players – who all average less than 12 points per night all hit their average and score 50 points? It seems unlikely, although desperate times call for desperate measures, and Milwaukee showed what a team minus their star could do against Miami.
Leonard will likely be back for Game 4, meaning the difficulty level for the Suns will go up, and the idea of heading into Game four down a game and needing a win against a well-rested Kawhi is not a great option.
The pressure is squarely on the Phoenix Suns to do what they should do to the Clippers, minus George and Leonard, in Game 3, which is to win. If they do so, they will have reclaimed homecourt, but the results could be season-ending if they don’t.