LOS ANGELES — Imagine saying as recently as two years ago – when Cameron Payne was sniffing around for a two-way contract with the lowly Cleveland Cavaliers – that he might be a lynchpin for a Western Conference finals team.
The story of Payne’s ascendance as a scrappy sixth man for the Phoenix Suns is one of the most improbable origin stories on a team making an improbable title run: an oft-injured 2015 draft pick whose career had all but flatlined before the Suns picked him up for an 8-0 run in the Florida bubble last summer. This postseason, Payne has truly raised his game.
Only now, the Suns might have to imagine playing without him.
Payne exited the first half of Game 3 on Thursday night after just four minutes, going 1 for 4 from the field with two points and an assist. A left ankle injury sent him back to the locker room in the first half; by halftime, the Suns said he would not return.
As the team’s nine-game playoff winning streak ended, Coach Monty Williams said postgame that he didn’t have much additional information on the injury.
“He tried to come back,” Williams said. “(The ankle) just wouldn’t allow him to go back out on the floor.”
For Phoenix, any moment to lose their top backup point guard would be inopportune, but especially just as it seemed the team was finally ready to get healthy. The…