One more win for the Suns and they’ll be in the Western Conference finals. They won Game 5 of their first-round series against the New Orleans Pelicans by a score of 112-97, making it appear as if they were coasting to victory. Game 6 will be held in New Orleans on Thursday night.
Chris Paul, who had a disappointing Game 4 performance, rebounded admirably in Game 5. The Suns jumped out to a double-digit lead after the first quarter thanks to a 22-point and 11-assist performance from him.
In Devin Booker’s absence, Mikal Bridges stepped up and scored a game-high 31 points, his best performance of the series.
A few times in the fourth quarter, the Pelicans came within a few points of regaining the lead, but they couldn’t sustain a sustained comeback effort.
On a night where Brandon Ingram and CJ McCollum both struggled from the field, they each scored 43 points on 14 of 41 attempts. Observations from the game include the following:
CP3 sets the tone
In the Suns’ Game 4 loss, Chris Paul had one of his worst playoff performances in his career, scoring four points and committing three turnovers. As the series returned to Phoenix for a pivotal Game 5, Paul’s return was one of the few guarantees.
He did exactly that. Paul set the tone early on with a nice bounce pass to Deandre Ayton, who scored on the ensuing possession.
He came out swinging, as much looking for opportunities for himself as he was for others. It was already a double-digit Suns lead after he had eight points and three assists at the end of the first quarter.
Paul appeared exhausted at halftime, but he still had enough energy to carry the Suns to victory in the second half. Just over three minutes into the fourth quarter, the Pelicans had cut the Suns’ lead to eight points, but Paul had either scored or assisted on eight of the team’s next nine points, effectively ending the game.
He tallied 22 points, 11 assists, three steals, and one turnover in a dominant performance on Saturday night. So far, only LeBron James and Magic Johnson have played in more playoff games with at least 20 points and 10 assists than he has.
Bridges step up
Devin Booker’s absence has been the central theme of this series. Almost everyone agrees that this series would be over by now if Booker had been healthy, and the Pelicans deserve a lot of credit for their fight and ability to extend it to at least six games. That is not the case, but it happens in the playoffs.
However, even though no one can match Booker’s output, the Suns need everyone else to perform at a higher level if they hope to advance. On a team that is so system-oriented, it can be difficult to suddenly adjust and start doing more; everyone knows their role and fills it so well.
The supporting cast, on the other hand, stepped up big time in Game 5. The bench was led by Cameron Payne’s 23 points, and Mikal Bridges had his best game of the series by far. Bridges had a career-high 31 points, five rebounds, two assists, and four blocks in 47 minutes of play in the second round of the playoffs. He made all four of his 3-point attempts, blocked numerous jump shots, and slammed the ball home twice in the final seconds.
The Suns will need a lot more of this effort from Bridges while Booker is out of the picture.
Can Pels get up off the mat one more time?
During this Pelicans season, it’s all about grit and determination. They started the season 1-12 and trailed by double digits in the fourth quarter of their second play-in game after Zion Williamson broke his foot. They had no business being in the playoffs, and yet they never gave up.
During the second play-in game against the Los Angeles Clippers, head coach Willie Green implored his team to keep up the good work. Achieving this is our goal in life, and it’s all because of the work you guys have done.
” “It’s not going anywhere. This is not something we’re ever giving up. You have to get up and fight. Fighting is the only way to get what you want in life.”
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They’ve had that attitude and toughness the entire season. Going home for a must-win Game 6, they’ll have to call on it one more time. After winning two elimination games this month, this one will be the most difficult yet.