The Phoenix Suns and LA Clippers knew the important of Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals, and both teams went at it in a competitive first half.
It felt like the two teams were simply matching each other shot for shit at large points of the first half in an offensive display that feels rare for this series, considering that one of their games ended 84-80.
The Suns rediscovered their shooting touch, hitting 26 of 47 from the field and 10 of 17 from three. They went up by 10 points early in the second half but as the Clippers have shown in the entire playoffs, no lead is safe. LA didn’t particularly have a bad shooting half either, going 20 of 43, but they struggled from three, making 7 of 21 attempts.
The Clippers leaned heavily on their role-players in the first half, and Patrick Beverley went toe to toe with Chris Paul and scored 11 points along with playing his patented defense. DeMarcus Cousins again showed effectiveness in limited minutes, scoring 10 points in 5 minutes played in the first half.
Paul George was quiet with only 6 points, but LA’s other consistent scorer, Reggie Jackson, also had 11 points at halftime. Marcus Morris rounded out the scoring for the Clippers with 13 points at the half to lead the Clippers.
For the Suns, Devin Booker was back on form with 14 points on 6 of 13 shooting. He decided not to wear the mask for the game, and it looked like it helped his shooting touch.
Paul orchestrated the offense well in the first half, adding 4 assists to his 10 points, and DeAndre Ayton was his consistent self with 10 points and 7 rebounds. Jae Crowder also found his offense again in the first half and was the Suns’ leading scorer with 16 points thanks to shooting 4 of 6 from deep.
The big key to Phoenix’s 66-57 halftime lead was how they distributed their shots more. The question heading into the second half was how the Clippers would respond, and if they could improve their three point shooting. They’d shown all playoffs that they are a fantastic third quarter team, and they needed to do it again to keep the game within reach.
The Suns matched the Clippers’ offense early in the third, and then took advantage of the Clippers shooting struggles as they padded their lead to 89-72 with 4:01 left in the period.
The Clippers went on a good run late in the third, though, cutting the lead to 89-82 with 1:43 left as they started playing with a huge sense of urgency. Monty Williams inexplicably waited until that moment to call a timeout.
Then, with things looking like they might get out of hand for Phoenix, the Point God returned and gave his former team a lesson they’ll never forget.
Chris Paul finally re-entered the game after that timeout, and went on a personal 8-1 run with two threes and a layup to stabilise things for the Suns at 97-83 heading into the fourth.
Paul continued his Point God assault to start the fourth quarter, hitting another three buckets in the first three minutes to push the lead to 105-85. After a couple of bad possessions, Paul continued his attack and hit a four-point play to cancel out a small run from LA.
Paul seemingly couldn’t miss as he hit another three to push the lead to 118-92 with 5:49 left that effectively put the game out of reach. His dominance was so complete that Patrick Beverley lost his mind after that bucket and got ejected after shoving him.
By the time he sat, Paul finished with 41 points, 4 rebounds, 8 assists, 3 steals, and 0 turnovers.
As good as his teammates were in the first half, they looked like they were going to falter in the third quarter. Crowder only scored once in the second half, and Booker only finished with 8 more points, and sat for quite a bit after getting hit in the face. He had the mask back on when he returned to the floor. DeAndre Ayton had another solid night, though, as he finished with 16 points, 17 rebounds and 2 blocks.
The night clearly belonged to Chris Paul. There is no arguing that he was single-handedly responsible for orchestrating the run that put the Clippers away, and this 130-103 victory is one of those legacy-defining moments.
Let this sink in: until he came back to the game with 1:28 left in the third quarter, he had 14 points, and the Clippers had cut the lead to 7. He responded by scoring 27 points for the Suns, starting from his three pointer upon getting back on the floor, to take what had been a close game into a dominant blowout. To do that while completing the game without a turnover is simply incredible.
Now, after 16 long years, Chris Paul finally has the chance to compete for the one prize that’s eluded him: an NBA championship. We’ve still got to wait to see who makes it out of the East, but it’s safe to say that Paul will give his all in the NBA Finals.
Congratulations, Chris. You’ve definitely paid your dues. Good luck in the Finals.