Class of 2013 graduate Cameron Payne and the Phoenix Suns punched their ticket to the NBA Finals last night with a 130-103 victory over the Los Angeles Clippers, winning the Western Conference championship.
In Wednesday night’s game-clinching win, Payne played 15 minutes and scored seven points to go along with seven assists. Instrumental in winning the series for the Suns, he stepped up in the absence of the injured Chris Paul in game two, scoring a career-high 29 points and dishing out nine assists with zero turnovers in the game. That 104-103 win would give the Suns a commanding 2-0 lead in a best of seven series they would eventually win 4-2.
Attending Lausanne from his seventh-grade year to graduation, Payne grew five inches during his time as a Lynx and would watch his basketball career take off. He led the Lynx to a 2013 state title, also winning the honor of Mr. Basketball for the state of Tennessee.
Not heavily recruited by college programs, Payne chose to go to Murray State. During his freshman year, Payne continued his success as he won OVC Freshman of the Year. During his time as a Racer, he was also named a third-team All-American by CBSSports.com, an honorable mention All-American by the Associated Press and named the Lute Olson National Player of the Year by collegeinsider.com. Payne also earned All-Ohio Valley Conference honors for the Racers from 2013-15.
Following that success, he entered the 2015 NBA Draft and was taken 14th by the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Payne’s trip to the 2021 NBA Finals continues a fantastic story of perseverance. He spent the beginning of his NBA career with the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Chicago Bulls before injuries led to him finding himself out of the league. With stops in China and the G-League, Payne never gave up on his NBA dreams and continued to work to them alive. Those dreams were realized when he signed with the Phoenix Suns in June of 2020. He made the most of the opportunity, backing up NBA legend Chris Paul at guard and helping the Suns begin the season strong and over the season improved his stats in both field goal percentage and three-point shooting.
Payne is the second Lynx alumni to reach the NBA Finals, following in the steps of Marc Gasol ’04, who won an NBA championship with the Toronto Raptors in 2019. Both Payne and Gasol won Mr. Basketball, state championships at Lausanne and have their jerseys retired and hanging in the lobby of the athletics building on campus.
The Suns will now get the chance to rest up as they wait to see who they face in the NBA Finals. The Milwaukee Bucks and Atlanta Hawks play game five of their series Thursday night in Milwaukee, with the series tied 2-2.
*cover photo courtesy: Phoenix Suns and nba.com/suns