The Phoenix Suns received the news before Game 4 of the Western Conference finals that reserve point guard Cameron Payne — nursing an ankle injury — will be able to play in Saturday night’s contest against the Los Angeles Clippers.

The Suns, pursuing their first NBA Finals appearance since 1993, don’t know just how badly they need Payne on the floor in this series… but they certainly want him available. Payne hasn’t been relentlessly consistent in these playoffs, but he has come up big in a number of games, including Game 2 of this series against the Clippers, in which he scored 29 points.

If Payne had not soared in Game 2 — on a night when Chris Paul was still unavailable due to COVID-19 protocols — the Suns would not have had a chance to steal the game on the fabled “Valley Oop” pass from Jae Crowder to Deandre Ayton in the final second. Payne has averaged close to 14 points per game in the postseason, over five full points more than his regular-season scoring average (8.4 points per game).

Payne also scored 16 points for the Suns in Game 5 of their series win over the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers. Payne was a stabilizing presence for Phoenix in that series, and in light of CP3’s mediocre performance upon returning to the floor in Game 3 of this West finals series versus the Clippers, it is reasonable to say that coach Monty Williams needs Payne on the court.

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Yet, one could also make the case that the Suns need Payne to be a relatively minimal factor in Game 4 and for the rest of the West finals. The logic behind that argument is simple: If Chris Paul plays well at the point, the need for Payne to provide difference-making minutes is reduced.

The best way to summarize this situation is that the Suns want Chris Paul and Ayton to flourish, which will reduce the burden on Cameron Payne… but if they don’t get great production from their starting five, they will need Cam to be a major Payne for the Clippers, who are trying to wipe away a 2-0 series deficit in their third consecutive best-of-seven battle.