After a turbulent Game 2 affair, the Western Conference First Round series between the Phoenix Suns and the New Orleans Pelicans shifted to The Big Easy on Friday night.
As if our nerves weren't on edge enough — playoff basketball will do that to you — news came down prior to the game that it would have a delayed start.
The Phoenix Suns at New Orleans Pelicans game will now tip off at 10 p.m. ET.— NBA Communications (@NBAPR) April 22, 2022
A suspicious package was found outside of State Farm Arena, home of the Atlanta Hawks, which pushed back their start against the Miami Heat.
Once the ball tipped, it was an impressive performance by the Suns’ bigs as Deandre Ayton dropped a playoff career high of 28 points with 17 rebounds. JaVale McGee added 15 points off of the bench. While the team was not good from beyond the arc – shooting 15.4% – the efforts of Chris Paul in the fourth once again propelled the team to victory.
Brandon Ingram and CJ McCollum combined for 64 points, but Jonas Valanciunas was limited to 6 points and 11 rebounds. Jaxson Hayes was ejected following a hockey-style body check on Jae Crowder.
Phoenix now leads the series 2-1. And here is how it happened.
The Suns were without All-Star shooting guard Devin Booker which put pressure on his teammates to step up and fill his void. It is a difficult void to fill. Booker averaged 26.8 points, 5 rebounds, and 4.8 assists during the regular season. If you look at his performance in the first two games of this playoff series – cut short by a Game 2 injury – he averaged 28 points, 3 rebounds, and 4.5 assists. Here we are, navigating the reality that the team will be without Booker for the series.
The opportunity to fill the scoring void was set for Deandre Ayton, and he started with the offensive aggression we were hoping for. DA was attacking the paint and scoring with ease over Jonas Valanciunas, using all of his tricks to get the ball into the hoop.
Yeah, he even deposited his second three-pointer of the series and had 13 of the Suns’ first 23 points in the first.
DIAL IT UP, BIG FELLA! pic.twitter.com/pKnlHCxIsM— Bally Sports Arizona (@BALLYSPORTSAZ) April 23, 2022
The bench for Phoenix has been challenged in this series as the Pelicans have been running out small-ball reserves with Larry Nance, Jr. at the five. This has allowed them to get out and run and use their athleticism against the size of the Suns. Credit the size of JaVale and his activity on the glass for keeping the second team unit afloat, but Cameron Payne’s rough series continued as he missed a layup, made a bad pass as the shot clock was running down, and made a foul in the backcourt on Devonte Graham that sent him to the line.
The bench for Phoenix has been challenged in this series as the Pelicans have been running out small-ball reserves with Larry Nance, Jr. at the five. This has allowed them to get out and run and use their athleticism against the size of the Suns. Credit the size of JaVale and his activity on the glass for keeping the second team unit afloat as he scored 5 points in the opening frame.
Cameron Payne’s rough series continued as he missed a layup, made a bad pass as the shot clock was running down, and made a foul in the backcourt on Devonte Graham that sent him to the line. He was a -6 in the first.
The steady scoring by New Orleans, led by Brandon Ingram’s 9 and CJ McCollum’s 7, put the Pelicans up after one, 29-28.
The Pelicans began the second quarter with a pair of three-pointers following Suns errors, including a strong blocked shot by Nance on Cam Johnson. JaVale countered with a couple of dunks and it was clear that the Monty adjustment for Game 3 was to attack the interior as much as possible.
New Orleans responded with a strong lineup of their own, including Nance and Valanciunas. Willie Green has been playing a lot of the right cards in this series, and the move resulted in a barrage of offensive rebounds for the Pelicans. New Orleans once again dominated the glass in the first half, outrebounding Phoenix 28-16.
One of the highlights of the second quarter was a fastbreak led by Chris Paul and ending with an and-1 opportunity for Landry Shamet. It was the second dunk of the contest for Mr. Shamet.
SHAMET STEALS JAXSON'S SOUL pic.twitter.com/N8qWCLIES4— Bally Sports Arizona (@BALLYSPORTSAZ) April 23, 2022
Jaxson Hayes must’ve had his feelings hurt because he became rather chippy after the Shamet posterization. He trucked through Jae Crowder as Bossman was attempting a box out, prompting an official review that resulted in a flagrant penalty two. Hayes was ejected from the game for his actions.
Jae Crowder received a technical foul for following Haynes and saying things that probably weren't nice.
Assault. pic.twitter.com/PfCGCJf69j— Dan Le Batard Show with Stugotz (@LeBatardShow) April 23, 2022
The Suns took advantage of Pelicans’ turnovers, using their defense to initiate their offense. Phoenix converted 7 second quarter miscues into 13 points. Ayton continued to provide much needed offense in the second, adding 8 points and ending the first half with 21 points.
The Suns closed the half on a 16-5 run after Hayes’ ejection, outscored the Pelicans 31-19, and entered the half with a 59-48 lead.
In the third quarter, Ayton continued to score, helping the Suns to a 13-point advantage. His previous career playoff-high in points of 24 was surpassed early on in the third quarter.
The Pelicans went on a 12-point run to trim the Phoenix advantage to one. Both Ingram and McCollum hand their fingerprints all over the run as they continued to display their offensive skillset. A 21-6 New Orleans gave them the lead 74-73 with 3:30 left in the third.
It was a troublesome effort from deep for the Suns, and halfway through the third quarter, the team was shooting 15.8% (3-of-20) from deep. The shots were there, and they were open shots, but the team wasn’t knocking them down.
Any real reason the Suns continue to shoot threes despite missing all of them?— Suns Report (@TheSunsReport) April 23, 2022
That is until Cam Johnson, who had been in foul trouble in the first half, reentered the game. He knocked down his first attempt, his second make of the night. Shortly thereafter he took a shot to the face after fumbling the ball in transition from Brandon Ingram. No flagrant was called.
The Pelicans have outscored the Suns 71-48 in the third quarter through the first two games of the series. On Friday, they added to that total, outscoring Phoenix 31-22 in the quarter. New Orleans shot 64.7% from the field as the BI/CJ combo scored 19 points in the quarter.
After three: Suns 81, Pelicans 79.
The fourth quarter opened as a back-and-forth affair, with the teams trading the lead between each other. Ties were a-plenty as they went blow for blow. Jose Alvarado, the undrafted rookie, provided a spark for the Pelicans off the bench as he scored seven consecutive fourth quarter points, which ignited the NOLA crowd.
Just a crazy Alvarado stretch. Seven straight points.— Kellan Olson (@KellanOlson) April 23, 2022
Tied at 90 with 6:32 to go. Gonna come down to a couple open 3s for the Suns, I think.
Chris Paul began to get surgical midway through the fourth as the Pelicans were allowing him to get to his spots. He scored eight consecutive Suns’ points as the Point God took advantage of mismatches and put himself in a spot that put pressure on the defense.
Paul, who entered the final period with 9 points and 12 assists, orchestrated the offense like a conductor at the symphony. He took what the defense gave him, picking his way through the line and found the open shot when New Orleans allowed, and went for 19 and 3 in the fourth. He ended the game with 28 points and 14 assists.
*looks at the clock*— Bally Sports Arizona (@BALLYSPORTSAZ) April 23, 2022
It's Point God time. pic.twitter.com/fHMhhC1qqT
Jae Crowder hit a clutch jumper to put the Suns up by 7 with two minutes left in the game, which was a site for sore eyes. He was 3-of-9 prior to the shot. Paul hit an impressive runner to pad the lead after a CJ McCollum layup, and following a missed three-pointer by Nance, Mikal Bridges extended the lead to 106-97 from the line with 49 seconds in the game.
Ingram responded with a clutch three-pointer, and after two CP3 free throws, Ingram was fouled on a three-point attempt by Torrey Craig. His free throws made it a five-point game, 108-103 with 30.3 seconds left on the clock.
The free throw game had begun.
Two free throws for CP3 another three-pointer for Ingram, two makes by Mikal, a layup by CJ, two more free throws by Mikal, a missed three by Ingram, an offensive foul by Larry Nance, Jr. (his sixth), Cam Johnson one-of-two from the line, and McCollum hits a three as time expires.
Phoenix was 47-0 in the regular season when entering the fourth with a lead during the regular season. They were a league best 33-9 in the clutch. Their experience paid off in The Big Easy and they outlasted the Pelicans, outsourcing them 33-32 in the fourth, and winning 114-111. They now have a 2-1 series lead.
Okay, time to breathe again.
The series resumes on Sunday evening as the Suns look to extend their series lead when tip-off happens at 6:30pm.
See you then Bright Siders.