PHOENIX (AP) — Mikal Bridges scored 31 points in a stellar all-game, Chris Paul added 22 points and 11 assists, and the top-seeded Phoenix Suns beat the New Orleans Pelicans 112-97 on Tuesday night to take a 3-2 lead in the Western Conference first-round series.
The Suns never trailed but never fully pulled away until the final minutes against the fiery Pelicans. Once again, Phoenix found a way to close, improving to 50-0 this season as they led after three quarters, including 3-0 in this series.
Bridges closed out the Suns’ scoring with two emphatic dunks in the final minute, capping arguably the best game of his professional career.
Brandon Ingram scored 22 points to lead the Pelicans. CJ McCollum added 21.
The Suns took an 89-78 lead in the final quarter after Cameron Payne’s last 3-pointer. The Pelicans – just 36-46 in the regular season – shot less than seven points with less than two minutes left, but Cameron Johnson threw a one-handed block on the ensuing fast break to keep the Suns in control .
Phoenix will look to clinch the series in Game 6 on Thursday in New Orleans. If the first five games are any indication, it won’t be easy.
Paul rebounded from a Game 4 below par and Bridges showed why he was one of three finalists for the league’s Defensive Player of the Year, blocking four shots.
It was also an ironman performance for Bridges, who played 47 of the possible 48 minutes without ever looking tired. He shot 12 of 17 from the field, grabbed five rebounds and had two steals.
Phoenix played its third straight game without All-Star guard Devin Booker, who was still out with a strained right hamstring that occurred in Game 2.
The Suns took a 2-20 lead late in the first quarter. They looked much more like the team that led the NBA with 64 regular season wins, playing tight defense and making the extra pass on offense to get open shots.
Phoenix led by no less than 17 in the second quarter before settling for a 59-46 advantage. Paul had 16 points before the break while Ayton added 13. Ingram had 13 for the Pelicans.
Suns coach Monty Williams has been fined $15,000 for publicly criticizing the officiating in Game 4 of the first-round playoff series against the New Orleans Pelicans, the NBA announced before the game. The Pelicans had a 42-15 foul shot advantage in Game 4, which the Suns lost.
Pelicans: Jose Alvarado was tough on defense again, forcing an eight-second call in the fourth quarter against Paul, who couldn’t get the ball out of the backcourt.
Suns: Booker has been training at the team’s training facility, but it’s still unclear when he’ll be able to return. … Payne gave the Suns a boost with seven points in the first quarter. He averaged just 4.8 points in the first four games of the series. … Phoenix was just 1 of 9 from 3-point range before closing out the first half hitting 4 of 6.
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