With Devin Booker returning after a three-game absence due to a hamstring issue, the Phoenix Suns appeared to be in a favorable position in advance of Game 6 against the New Orleans Pelicans on Thursday. Though there were rumblings Booker could return and his presence was an undeniable positive, it was Chris Paul that stole the show at Smoothie King Center, putting together an all-encompassing performance that included perfect shooting and 33 points. The Suns needed every bit of the effort from the future Hall of Fame point guard, but Phoenix survived and eliminated New Orleans with a 115-109 victory.
The Suns started well, taking an early lead, using the first bucket (on the first shot) from Booker to take an early 11-4 lead.
New Orleans was not going to fade, though, and it became clear in a hurry. The Pelicans responded to tie the game at 28-28 at the end of the first quarter, winning on the margins by not committing a single turnover and punishing Phoenix on the glass.
New Orleans would then dominate the second quarter, leading by 10 at the halftime break and putting some real pressure on the Suns going into the locker room. Phoenix did take control midway through the third quarter, riding a 10-0 run to the lead. As was the case throughout the evening, Paul was the centerpiece, scoring seven straight points of his own.
The Pelicans did recover, and New Orleans took repeated punches. In fact, the Pelicans led by three points at the end of the third quarter, and the New Orleans crowd was in a frenzy.
Both teams scuffled a bit on offense for much of the quarter, leading to a slugfest that was also hotly contested. However, a Brandon Ingram bucket gave the Pelicans the lead with two minutes remaining.
In a fashion that was fitting for the league’s best team this season, Phoenix seized the opportunity to put the series away from there, scoring the next seven points. When that spurt ended, the Suns held a six-point lead that looked to be relatively comfortable.
One more time, the Pelicans climbed back into the mix, cutting the margin to three with less than a minute to go. Then, the dagger arrived from Paul, who made his 14th consecutive shot to ice the game.
As a team, the Suns scored more than 1.2 points per possession in the game, shooting 60 percent from the floor and 40 percent from three-point range. It was a meticulous and impressive performance from Phoenix, with five players in double figures. Still, the individual star was Paul, who made a bit of NBA history by finishing 14-of-14 from the field for 33 points to go along with eight assists and five rebounds.
In the process of clinching the series against the Pelicans, Chris Paul made all 14 of his shots from the floor.
Including both the regular season and playoffs, the only player with more makes without a miss in a game in NBA history is Wilt Chamberlain. pic.twitter.com/IVwkhUWTPB
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) April 29, 2022
For New Orleans, this is the end of the line for the 2021-22 season, but the Pelicans put forth an incredible effort in the series. Phoenix was clearly respectful of what New Orleans was able to do after the series, including an emotional sendoff from Pelicans head coach Willie Green, who was a Suns assistant just one year ago.
Booker’s return certainly comes at a strong time for Phoenix, and the Suns can now take a step back to enjoy the series win and prepare for the second round. The Suns will take on the winner of the first round matchup between the Dallas Mavericks and the Utah Jazz and, if Phoenix can capture this performance from Paul with Booker getting healthy and a balanced team approach, they will be difficult to unseat at the top of the West.