Chris Paul is an 11-time All-Star who got a big hole in a Hall of Fame resume.
The 16-year-old veteran changed that narrative on Wednesday night when he sealed his first trip to the NBA Finals.
Paul scored 31 of his 41 points in the second half to help the Phoenix Suns clinch a 130-103 victory over host Los Angeles Clippers, finishing the Western Conference Finals in six games.
The result sends the Suns to the NBA Final for the first time in 28 years.
Paul’s first trip to the Finals comes in his first season with his fifth team, an organization that has spent the past decade watching the playoffs.
The new team have turned out to be the right fit for the 36-year-old keeper.
“From day one, they welcomed me with open arms,” said Paul. “We still have a lot of work to do, but we’re going to take advantage of it – 16 years, surgeries, hard work, losses, bad losses, but we will take advantage of tonight. “
Paul shot 7 of 8 for 3 points and 16 of 24 overall while helping kill his old organization. He also had eight assists and three steals.
When the Clippers came close to seven points at the end of the third quarter, Paul took over and personally delivered the knockout blow to the Los Angeles season.
“He’s just a great player, a great leader and he serves his teammates,” said Suns coach Monty Williams. “We saw that tonight. He was dead tired and he was still able to play after game after game. It is his will. I’m just happy to watch it right now.
Devin Booker scored 22 points, Jae Crowder added 19 points and Deandre Ayton had 16 points and 17 rebounds for the second-seeded Suns.
Marcus Morris Sr. recorded 26 points and nine rebounds, and Paul George added 21 points for the fourth-seeded Clippers. Patrick Beverley was kicked out with 5:49 left when he came up behind Paul and pushed him onto the pitch.
“I’m proud of what we did as a team,” said George, who has 20 points in every game of the series. “I wasn’t there to prove anything to anyone, just to be a leader for this team.”
Clippers star Kawhi Leonard (knee) missed his eighth consecutive game and teammate Ivica Zubac (knee) missed his second straight game.
Cameron Johnson (illness unrelated to COVID) was ruled out for Phoenix, who made 17 of 31 3-point attempts (54.8%) and shot 56.4% overall.
Phoenix will face either the Atlanta Hawks or the Milwaukee Bucks in the NBA Finals. These teams are tied 2-2 in the Eastern Conference final.
The Suns had already reached the final twice, losing to the Boston Celtics in 1976 and the Chicago Bulls in 1993. The two series were played in six games.
Phoenix hadn’t even played in a playoff game since 2010 before this season’s race, which included series wins over the Los Angeles Lakers, Denver Nuggets and Clippers.
Los Angeles was trying to reach the NBA Final for the first time.
“I thought we were running out of gas,” Clippers coach Tyronn Lue said. “We made a lot of mistakes mentally. It tells you guys are tired.
Los Angeles trailed six early in the third quarter before Phoenix scored 21 of the next 31 points to take an 89-72 lead over Mikal Bridges’ quick-break basket with 4:01 left in the period. .
The Clippers responded with 10 consecutive points, capped by 3 points from Morris and Nicolas Batum, to move to less than seven with 1:43 remaining.
Paul followed by scoring eight straight points to take the Suns’ lead to 15 before Phoenix took a 97-83 lead in the final stanza.
Paul continued his scorching game with three straight baskets early in the fourth – he scored 19 in the stanza – to push the Phoenix advantage to 105-85 with 9:39 to go. When the Clippers slipped under 15, Paul converted a four-run game to make it 111-92 with 7:42 to go.
Ayton followed with a drive-thru before Paul added a basket and a 3-point straight away to make it a 26-point margin with 5:49 left. Paul then touched the technique resulting from Beverley’s ejection to make it 119-92, and Phoenix closed the convincing victory.
Reggie Jackson scored 13 points, DeMarcus Cousins added 12 and Beverley scored 11 for Los Angeles, who shot 41.8% from the field and made 12 of 39 (30.8%) behind the arc.