The demons have been exercised. The wait is over. I type these words through tears in my eyes...the Phoenix Suns are going to the NBA Finals.
It was the Chris Paul Show on Wednesday night as the Suns routed the Los Angeles Clippers to earn their first berth in the NBA Finals since 1993. Paul led all scorers with 41 points and dominated the second half with 31 points to earn his first trip to the Finals in his career.
Devin Booker added 22, Ayton dropped a double-double with 16 and 17. And Jae Crowder caught fire for 19 to help the Suns blow out the Clippers, 130-103.
THE SUNS ARE IN THE FINALS!!!
Here is how it happened.
An hour before tip, the Suns received a blow as the news broke that Cameron Johnson would not be available to play in Game 6. Johnson had been one of the bright spot for Phoenix offensively as he had averaged 10.8 points on 70/52.9/1.000 splits through the first 5 games of the Western Conference Finals. Yeah. Read those splits again. Insane.
Alas, they would be without Cam due to food illness, as reported by Flex From Jersey. What is it with Suns getting food poisoning in Los Angeles during the Western Conference Finals? (See: Alvin Gentry in Game 5 of the 2010 WCF)
Can report Cam Johnson is out for game 6 with Food Poisoning. Unfortunately started feeling sick this morning. Won't go tonight. Next Man Up!— FLEX From Jersey (@FlexFromJersey) July 1, 2021
First two guys to score? Mikal and Jae. Both have had a rough series thus far, combining for 14.8 points on 29.5% three-point shooting. Seeing Jae Crowder hit an early three-pointer was a welcomed sight for Phoenix, and Chris Paul followed up with two deep balls himself. Paul had been 2-of-16 from beyond the arc in the last 3 games.
The pace was more aggressive for Phoenix and they forced the Clippers out of the zone defense that was so successful in Game 5.
Patrick Beverley was his usual flustering self, drawing offensive fouls and creating havoc, yet this time he was generating offense. He exceeded his series average of 5 points-per-game in the first quarter as he posted 7, doing so by dribbling around Devin Booker and getting to the rim.
Ayton was much more involved early, as many have clamored that he should be. When the Clippers are forced to go small — Ivica Zubac was out once again with knee soreness — Deandre should feast. He ended the first quarter with 10 points and 3 rebounds. Phoenix could’ve been up by 7 at the end of one, but Boogie Cousins hit a bank shot buzzer-beater to cut the deficit to 4: Suns up 33-29 after one.
#Suns 33, Clippers 29 at the end of the first after Boogie banks in that 3 at the buzzer. Ayton with 10 points on 5-of-6 shooting. Booker with 9. Suns are shooting 63.6 from the floor and 5-of-7 from deep, but Clippers also have five 3s already (on 13 attempts).— Gina Mizell (@ginamizell) July 1, 2021
Dario Saric hit two three’s in the second quarter. I just thought you should know that.
Saric was a part of a lineup that included Chris Paul, Cam Payne, Abdel Nader, and Torrey Craig. That lineup pushed the Suns lead to 10 points with 9:14 left in the second. Phoenix hit 7 of their first 9 three pointers to get there.
With 8:16 left in the second quarter the Clippers committed their first foul of the game. It is the latest a team has committed a foul in the last 25 years of playoff basketball. So if you were a Suns fan watching, you were frustrated. It appeared that one team was being allowed to be physical and one was being penalized for it.
The Clippers quickly erased the 10-point lead behind as Phoenix went cold, the Clippers raised their intensity, and Patrick Beverly. The smallest man on the floor was having the biggest impact. And ESPN was reminding you of it. At one point, when the referees were reviewing a foul committed by Jae Crowder, the broadcast spent the entire time talking and watching Beverley walking around the floor and sitting during the break. It was quite the love fest.
The amount of praise being heaped on the Clippers in this broadcast is pretty appalling. This ain't a local broadcast.— Vince Marotta (@Vincemarotta) July 1, 2021
We’ve seen the story time and time again. Deandre Ayton has a stellar first quarter and plays beyond what we think is his potential. And then we don’t see him do much in the second quarter. Part of that is due to substitution patterns; Ayton typically plays the majority of the first quarter and the back half of the second. But part of that has to do with the Suns lack of seeking him out on offense.
Ayton finished the first half with the same 10 points he entered the second quarter with. Outside of getting mugged by Pat Bev only to have it called a common foul, his presence on the glass was impactful for Phoenix.
Jae Crowder had a huge impact in the first half, hitting 4-of-6 three’s and posting a team best 16 points. It was impressive to see the adjustments that Monty deployed executed by his team. Torrey Craig took Paul George out of his rhythm. Booker scored 14 points. Four of the five starters were in double figures. Team basketball was back as they assisted on 17 of their 26 makes.
Phoenix entered halftime with a 9-point lead, up 66-57, and 24 minutes away from the NBA Finals.
The whistles continued early and often in the third quarter, including a play challenged by Monty Williams in which Mikal Bridges blocked Paul George (which it appeared to be all ball). But alas, it was not overturned.
2 Clippers possessions, 3 Suns fouls to start the second half. Fun.— Gerald Bourguet (@GeraldBourguet) July 1, 2021
With 8:16 left in the third, Los Angeles was in the bonus.
Phoenix persevered despite the free points being granted to the Clippers. The offense continued to click in the third as the team continued to play with poise. An offensive rebound by Torrey Craig. A 9-footer by CP3. An Ayton layup.
It must be hard being on the road in a hostile environment and see none of the calls go your way. It must be challenging to have the like of Pat Bev constantly being an irritant. Yet Phoenix continued to focus on execution rather than retaliation, implementation rather than tempers.
The Suns pushed their lead to 13 on a Devin Booker wham-bam-slam midway through the third.
Devin Booker is a human cheat code!pic.twitter.com/S1KbKI5n3k— Looselines Sportsbook (@LooselinesRJ) July 1, 2021
Jae Crowder went out with four fouls during the referee whistle-fest which meant Torrey Craig’s addition in the absence of Cameron Johnson paid dividends, especially on the defensive side of the ball. His size and physicality was the best matchup on Paul George for Phoenix.
The Suns pushed the lead to 17. But the Clippers dropped a quick 10-0 run on them, capped by a Nicolas Batum three-ball. The Clippers would not go away. They continued to fight.
Booker once again took a shot in the face and reminded us he is one tough son of a jackal.
Devin Booker gets hit right in his broken nose: pic.twitter.com/FR9rUmr5xm— Evan Sidery (@esidery) July 1, 2021
Chris Paul scored 12 in the third, including a personal 8-0 run to end the quarter. It was getting chippy as Paul drew a technical on Boogie Cousins for an elbow to the neck. Oh, and Ayton was granted a technical foul for saying the eff word it appears. Pat Bev can openly taunt Chris Paul like he did after earning a flagrant in Game 5, but the eff word?! How dare he!
Regardless, the Suns were on top entering the fourth, 97-83.
The lead ballooned to 20 points as the Suns opened the fourth on an 8-2 run. 6 of those were from Chris Paul, looking to seal the fate of his former team and exercise some playoff demons.
And he didn’t stop.
Like the closeout game against the Denver Nuggets, Chris Paul went into “Point God Mode”. The Clippers appeared tied in the fourth and could not stop the Phoenix attack. It frustrated Patrick Beverly to the point of ejection.
Phoenix did not relent. They did not stop. They did not lose. And now they are Western COnference Champions.
Suns win, 130-103. The season continues...and the chance to wing a ring is on the horizon.
THE NBA FINALS!
PS...I’m 2-0 when covering Game 6 this playoff run.