Chris Paul’s shoulder injury looms large after Lakers’ Game 2 win over Suns: ‘At all times we miss him’

With seven minutes left in Tuesday’s Game 2 between the Lakers and Suns and the score all tied up at 86, Phoenix star Chris Paul wasn’t steering the ship on offense or pestering an opposing guard on defense. No, Paul, one of the NBA’s most reliable clutch-time players, was being subbed out by coach Monty Williams.

That alone should tell you just how much the future Hall of Famer was hurting, though there was plenty of other evidence of Paul’s pain during the Lakers’ 109-102 win, which evened the first-round series at one game apiece.

After injuring his right shoulder in Game 1, Paul rarely looked like the real CP3. He played just 23 minutes in Game 2, totaling six points, five assists, three rebounds and three turnovers.

His passes lacked their usual precision and zip. His movements weren’t as sharp and direct. He wasn’t looking for his trademark elbow jumper after snaking the pick-and-roll. Over the past two games, he has simply lost control of the ball multiple times against minimal defensive pressure.

“It’s pretty obvious,” Suns coach Monty Williams said. “He’s not able to make the passes that he wants. That’s one. He was laboring tonight. I don’t want to get into too many details until I talk to him about it. But you could see that his arm wasn’t — he wasn’t even running the way that he ran and dribbled the ball this morning.”

The Suns have referred to Paul’s injury as a right shoulder contusion, but he wasn’t listed on the Game 2 injury report. Whatever Paul is fighting through, whether just a contusion or something more significant, it was enough for Williams to pull him and turn toward backup guard Cameron Payne at a pivotal point in the fourth quarter.

Payne performed admirably, posting 19 points and seven assists in 33 minutes off the bench, but Los Angeles outscored Phoenix 23-16 over that final seven-minute stretch. Lakers stars LeBron James (23 points, nine assists, four rebounds) and Anthony Davis (34 points, 10 rebounds, seven assists) led the way for Los Angeles while Paul watched Phoenix’s offense stagnate from the sideline.

Devin Booker, who poured in a team-high 31 points in the loss, admitted that not having Paul to lean on was difficult.

“At all times we miss him,” Booker said when asked whether the Suns missed Paul’s steady hand in clutch situations. “It’s gonna be tough, but we all have to step up.”

Now with the series shifting to LA, the big question is how much Paul’s shoulder injury will limit him moving forward. The Suns have been very competitive with a banged-up Paul playing or sitting, so hope is not yet lost in Phoenix’s locker room.

But the reality is that the Suns may need the “Point God” version of Paul in order to take down the defending champs — and the Suns’ players and coaches all seem to know it.

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