The Phoenix Suns thoroughly dominated the first half, withstood an offensive-rebound onslaught from the New Orleans Pelicans in the third, and needed a breakout scoring spree from Chris Paul to finally put away the pesky Pels.
The Pelicans decided to attack the glass with abandon in the third quarter and combined with better shooting they outscored the Suns 38-25.
With the Suns up only 8 to start the fourth quarter, Chris Paul went into overdrive and scored 17 points in the first six minutes to push the Suns lead back up to 99-85 before he relaxed. By that time, the Suns were back in rhythm.
Suns win game one by the score, 110-99.
The Suns were really buoyed by the Big Three in this one. Chris Paul had 30 points, 10 assists and 7 rebounds. Devin Booker had 25 points, 8 assists and 4 rebounds. Deandre Ayton had 21 points and 9 rebounds. Cameron Johnson contributed 13 off the bench.
The Pelicans out-rebounded the Suns 55-35, and scored 29 of their 99 points on second-chances. That’s what kept them in the game.
The Suns starting lineup is 31-7 this year. This Pelicans starting lineup is 9-3 this season, including the two Play-In games.
Devin Booker kicked off the game with a step-in three from long range and the crowd was into it early, but the Pelicans responded with an easy backdoor pass to Jonas Valanciunas for a layup.
After not being named among the top three finalists for MVP, and knowing he’s the first in history to average 26+ points for the league’s best team and NOT finish in the top two, came out on fire. He had a three, an assist, a fast break layup and a fast break three to contribute to the Suns 11-4 start. Chris Paul assisted on all three of Book’s baskets.
The Suns are starting with Crowder on Brandon Ingram and Mikal Bridges on CJ McCollum and the Pelicans started 3-17 from the field. Jonas Valanciunas was 2-7 as the primary scoring option with BI/CJ getting bottled up and having to pass off.
The Pelicans scored their second bucket the way they’re going to have to get a lot of their scoring — on second and third attempts off offensive rebounds.
The Suns were scrappy though, and got multi-effort defensive rebounds among the taller Pelicans. They were running off rebounds at every opportunity, moving at a pace that belied their pent up energy for the playoffs. If they made all the open shots and didn’t have a couple of careless turnovers, they’d be up higher than 13-6 at an early New Orleans timeout.
When the Pelicans got down 17-8, Willie Green adjusted and went with the small lineup that got them the play-in win — Larry Nance Jr. at center, and Trey Murphy Jr., along with BI, Jones and McCollum.
Those changes didn’t help the Pels. Pretty soon a four-bench-plus-Book lineup ballooned the lead to 26-12 with just 1:33 left in the quarter. Pels are now shooting 21.7% from the field. Everything’s a contested jumper. Nothing easy or open.
I’d say these Suns are ready for games to matter again.
After one, Suns lead 28-16 as Book misses a couple of end-of-quarter shots that rim out. Book finished the quarter with 10 points, 4 assists, 3 rebounds and a steal. Chris Paul hasn’t even attempted a shot, while also having 4 assists and 3 rebounds and a steal. Suns shooting 64.7% while the Pels are shooting 23.1%.
Paul started the second quarter and made a three in the face of the Pels attempt to be physical with him. But otherwise the Suns got a little sloppy, with Chris Paul trying a bit too hard for highlight passes instead of taking the easy pass. Didn’t help that Crowder and Payne both missed wide open threes. Over three and a half minutes into the quarter, and the score was only 3-2 Suns.
Most of the Suns starters returned by mid-quarter, but Jae Crowder picked up his third foul and had to take a seat on the bench with 0-3 from the field and 3 fouls — not a great looking line.
DA was smooth in his mid-range shots as Jonas V didn’t want any feet outside the paint (5-5 for 10 points). Chris Paul drained a middy for the same reason. And the Suns were soon up 42-21.
Suns up 53-34 at halftime on Chris Paul’s layup as time expired in the half. Pelicans are shooting 22% from the field in this one. Suns are shooting 54%. That’s all we need to say.
The Suns didn’t let up in the second half, taking a 22 point lead by mid quarter, 67-45, by attacking Jaxson Hayes defensively (Chris Paul is cruel) to force another Pels timeout at 7:46 in the quarter. The Suns were up 72-50 and Devin Booker already had 11 in the quarter.
When they came back, Jaxson Hayes was replaced by Trey Murphy. The Pels were a lot better on the offensive end in the second half, making 11 of 22 shots — some open, most of them contested — and they cut the Suns lead to 14 (76-62) to force a Suns timeout.
The Pels are now up to 20 offensive rebounds — clearly that’s their plan — TWENTY OFFENSIVE REBOUNDS, and thats the only thing keeping this inside a 30-point rout for the Suns.
Well, a combo of missed threes and giving up a gajillion Pels offensive rebounds allowed the Pelicans to truly climb back into this game, cutting the Suns lead to seven points, before Cameron Johnson made a three-point play to give the Suns a brief 10 point lead again.
End of three — Suns up 79-71. Pels have 21 offensive rebounds for 24 second-chance points. That’s a third of their scoring, folks. They are still just shooting 33% from the field.
To this point, the Pelicans are up 46 to 30 in total rebounds. Bridges, Crowder, Cam Johnson and Torrey Craig have combined for 5 total rebounds. Ayton has 7, McGee has 6.
Then Chris Paul went on a personal three-point shooting spree to hold off the suddenly hot-shooting Pelicans, capping it off with a driving layup for 13 points in the run. Suns up 12, with some breathing room, 95-83. This with the Pels making 5 of 6 shots to start the fourth!
Before he was done, Paul had scored 17 in the quarter to give the Suns the 99-85 lead with 5:35 left to go.