By R.L. Bynum
Tuesday night, Cameron Johnson couldn’t miss and his Phoenix Suns couldn’t be beaten.
Playing again without Chris Paul, still out under the NBA’s health and safety protocols, the Suns took a 2–0 series lead in the Western Conference finals over the Los Angeles Clippers with thrilling 104–103 home victory on Deandre Ayton’s alley-oop dunk off of an inbounds pass with 0.7-of-a-second left.
“Coach has got a deep bag of tricks,” Johnson said of Coach Monty Williams. “That was drawn up on the spot and then executed really well by our guys. We don’t think we’ve ever run it before. I don’t think we’ve ever seen it before.”
Phoenix likely wouldn’t have gotten there without the contributions off the bench from Johnson, who made all five field-goal attempts on his way to collecting 11 points, three rebounds and a steal in just over 24 minutes.
Johnson has put up a double-digit game score four times in 12 playoff games but two of those have been in the Clippers series: an 11.6 in Game 1 and an 11.4 in Game 2. It marks the first time Johnson has had double-digit game scores in consecutive games since doing it Feb. 5 against Detroit then Feb. 7 against Boston.
In a crazy last few minutes with the teams trading leads and momentums, the Suns persevered.
“That’s the main thing we’ve been talking about this whole playoffs is keeping our poise, no matter what’s thrown our way, no matter what obstacles we have to face — good shooting days, bad shooting days, calls not going our way, balls not going our way,” said Johnson, whose team has won nine consecutive games. “The big thing we’ve emphasized is keeping our poise. When the rubber meets the road, you know you’ve got to show when it counts and get the job done.”
Johnson rippled the net with a clutch 3-pointer from 26 feet out from beyond the top of the key with 6:30 left to push Phoenix’s lead at the time to 91–85.
Devin Booker, who scored 20 points, returned to the game after getting stitches to the bridge of his nose. On the ESPN broadcast, analyst Jeff Van Gundy quipped, “Devin Booker’s nose may be broken but Cam Johnson’s jumper sure isn’t.”
Johnson was on the court for the decisive play and open from 3-point range when inbounds passer Jae Crowder found Ayton open coming off of a Booker screen.
“Man, that was crazy. Incredible play call by our coach,” Johnson said. “Unbelievable execution by everybody. Book — an incredible screen.”
Johnson is 10 of 13 from the floor and 3 of 6 from 3-point range in the first two games of the series against the Clippers, which shifts to Los Angeles for Game 3 at 9 p.m. Thursday on ESPN.
Early in the game, Johnson cut to the basket around Rajon Rondo twice to get four of his points.