The Phoenix Suns beat the New Orleans Pelicans, 115-109, and won the first round of the 2022 NBA playoffs.
Chris Paul was perfect from the field, 14-14, becoming the first player in NBA playoff history to post such a line.
Devin Booker returned to action, scoring 13 points in short minutes. He made a three pointer to give the Suns the lead for good, in the final two minutes of the game.
The Suns move on to the second round, which is projected to start Monday. This opponent will be the winner of the Mavericks-Jazz series.
The Phoenix offense was humming to begin this one, starting with a Crowder three, two Paul middies, an Ayton middy, and a Booker middy. Overall, the team started 5-6 from the field.
Both teams took advantage of defensive lapses throughout the first quarter leading to plays like a touchdown pass to Jaxson Hayes and an empty paint dunk for Ayton as he started piling up his scoring total. Ayton had 10 points on 4-4 shooting in the first eight minutes alone. Before the quarter ended, New Orleans was already sending doubles at him every time he caught the ball.
Close to the end of the frame, CJ McCollum quite literally football tackled Cam Johnson on a breakaway, leaving Cam holding his head on the floor. McCollum was given a flagrant foul one for his actions. Johnson was okay and knocked down the ensuing free throws.
I’m reminded of the Knicks game where he sustained his thigh injury, and I wonder why so many opposing players feel like they should play football with Johnson.
The game was tied after one at 28.
Having Booker back makes things so much easier, and it was clear especially as Jose Alvarado was doing all his full-court press antics. When Booker saw three Pelicans in the backcourt, he got away from all three and drew a foul on Larry Nance Jr.
Speaking of Alvarado, shortly after that, he drew a foul in the backcourt on Paul after Paul tried to screen Alvarado into another dimension. Reggie Miller called it “a taste of (Paul’s) own medicine”.
In the second quarter, Phoenix wasn’t playing bad half-court defense, but New Orleans was still able to find the holes in the defense and create opportunities in transition, where the Suns really struggled, largely due to look-ahead passes by Pels bigs.
While Paul struggled in the backcourt and on the defensive end in the first half, his scoring was locked in, starting 4-4 for 10 points over the first quarter and a half. Ayton continued to force his way inside and looked a lot more aggressive than he normally does.
Crowder had an awful end to his half between boneheaded fouls, turnovers, and overplaying on defense. His porous play — despite a foul drawn as well — led to a Pelicans run to end the half, when they led 58-48. Phoenix was down, but not out.
Monty Williams assured his team at the break that the Pelicans’ play was “nonsense”, and that coming back “is going to be hard”. That difficulty would be exasperated by Booker starting the half on the bench, taking things easy on that ailing hamstring.
The half started with Johnson drawing an offensive foul on McCollum and Crowder getting an and-one (that Willie Green unsuccessfully challenged) followed by a Paul middy. Suns had very quickly cut the deficit to just 5.
McCollum single-handedly extended it back out to 10 before Paul gave McCollum his fourth foul on a rip-through. Green kept him in the game, and he’d earn his fifth not long after with nearly seven minutes still remaining in the third quarter.
As Phoenix continued to be the aggressors in the ball game, New Orleans started to unravel a bit as Herb Jones picked up his fourth foul, and Paul nabbed the 70-69 lead with 6:09 remaining in the third. By this point, Paul had 23 points on 10-10 shooting with 13 in the 5:51 third quarter minutes alone.
Suns continued to draw offensive fouls, including one where Alvarado threw Crowder aside. It was called a block on the floor, but Williams challenged and it was overturned. Alvarado also stepped on Crowder’s foot, twisting his ankle a bit, likely hampering him for the rest of the game. Booker immediately targeted Alvarado for a face-up middy.
By the end of the third, the Pelicans led by only 5.
Paul got Alvarado with the rare “second rip-through in the same game” to start off the quarter, and Bridges and Ayton combined to put forth the first three Suns buckets then Johnson added in the next two.
It was an absolute dogfight throughout the fourth with both teams hitting tough shots and playing tougher defense. It felt like the game was within 5 or 6 points all quarter.
Suns got their first two-possession lead with 1:28 remaining on a Bridges scoop n’ score emphasized by a dunk. Booker showed up big late in this one with a clutch three, outstanding defense against Ingram, and some made free throws to seal the deal.
Paul got a near-dagger on a middy with about 30 seconds left to extend the lead to 5, but Ingram responded with a finger roll. Booker then made those free throws, and Crowder added one of his own.
It was hard, just like Williams said at the half, but Phoenix got it done, ending their first round series with a 115-109 win.
- Five Suns finished in double figures: Paul (33 on 14-14), Ayton (22 on 10-12), Bridges (18 on 7-12), Booker (13 on 5-12), and Johnson (13 on 4-7)
- Six Pelicans were in double figures, but none had more than 21
- Free throw attempts were the closest they’ve been all series; Pelicans led 19-18.
- Booker looked like Olympic Book, especially with his clutch defense.
Suns await the winner of Dallas-Utah with Dallas leading 3-2 with a chance to close it out immediately following this game. I would think neither opponent poses the threat to the Suns that New Orleans did, based on personnel and coaching matchups.