By: Robert Bishop
Back again, and an incredible run of thrilling NBA playoff games continued on Tuesday night with yet another instant classic. The Phoenix Suns, once again without Chris Paul (COVID protocols), pulled off a stunning win over the Los Angeles Clippers on a shot that was literally a last-second buzzer-beater. A baffling replay decision awarded possession to the Clippers in the waning seconds, seemingly gifting Los Angeles the win.
With a one-point lead, the Suns were forced to foul Paul George, sending the superstar to the free-throw line for a pair of shots. Shockingly, George missed both shots, keeping the lead at one point. Phoenix inbounded the ball with under a second remaining on the game clock. What followed was a play for the ages as Jae Crowder delivered a jaw-dropping, pitch-perfect out-of-bounds alley-oop pass to Deandre Ayton, who delivered the game-winning dunk.
Thanks to Crowder and Ayton’s heroics, Phoenix now boasts a commanding 2-0 advantage in the series. Devin Booker followed up his Game 1 triple-double with 20 points and five dimes, but he struggled for much of the night, as evidenced by his seven turnovers. Ayton was the star for the Suns, scoring 24 points on 12-of-15 shooting while also grabbing 14 boards. Cameron Payne, filling in for Chris Paul, led the Suns with a career-high 29 points and nine assists. The Suns have surpassed expectations all season thanks to a team-centric approach, and that same mentality has Phoenix two wins away from the NBA Finals.
However, Los Angeles has proven resilient thus far in the playoffs, overcoming deficits in its first-round matchup with the Mavericks and the second round against the Jazz. Of course, Game 2’s loss is going to be a mental hurdle giving its demoralizing ending. Paul George had largely erased the sour memories of his previous postseason struggles with his play this year, but the two missed free throws in the final ten seconds are going to be tough to forget. With Kawhi Leonard looking unlikely to return anytime soon, George will have to shake off Game 2’s defeat and deliver a superstar performance in Game 3 for L.A. to have any hope of making this a series.
Detroit may be as far from the playoffs as possible, but the Pistons took a step closer to contention last night with the NBA Draft lottery awarding the franchise the top overall selection in this year’s upcoming draft. The Pistons will likely be focused on wing Cade Cunningham, potentially adding him to a young core of players that is surprisingly deep though lacking in star power. Cunningham has superstar potential, and the Pistons have to be elated at the turn of events that transpired on Tuesday night. The Houston Rockets and Cleveland Cavaliers follow the Pistons in the top three of the draft.
Tonight is Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals, with the Atlanta Hawks and Milwaukee Bucks squaring off following their epic Game 7 wins. The Hawks are entering the series banged up. Already without DeAndre Hunter, Atlanta’s wing depth is dealing with injuries to Bogdan Bogdanovic (knee) and Kevin Huerter (ankle). Huerter looks to be the likelier of the two to play, and given his importance to the team in Game 7, having him on the court will be a massive boost to Atlanta’s confidence. The Bucks are likely entering the series far from well-rested, setting up another opportunity for the Hawks to pull off a third-consecutive upset. It’s going to be a fun series.