Chris Paul is still looking for his perfect ending.
A perfect entry to Round 2 will have to suffice for now.
Paul and the Phoenix Suns — the team with the best record in the NBA this season — have moved on to the Western Conference semifinals, where a matchup with fourth-seeded Dallas awaits. It’ll start in Phoenix on Monday night.
And Paul is coming off the perfect game: 14 for 14 from the field, 4 for 4 from the foul line, 33 points in the 115-109 Game 6 first-round series-clincher for Phoenix at New Orleans on Thursday night. It was the most field goals without a miss in NBA playoff history and matched the fourth-most in any NBA game. The three better showings all belong to Wilt Chamberlain — who had games of 15, 16 and 18 makes without a single miss.
“Nobody’s seen this, 14 for 14,” Suns guard Devin Booker said. “This is the first time for all of us.”
Paul and the Suns got to the NBA Finals — his first time there — last season, winning the first two games against the Milwaukee Bucks before dropping the next four and watching Giannis Antetokounmpo and his teammates celebrating a title.
All Phoenix did this season for an encore was win 64 games, earn home-court for the entirety of the NBA playoffs and now moves into Round 2. The Suns ousted eighth-seeded New Orleans in six games to advance, saw Paul make history and got Booker back from a hamstring strain for the clincher.
“All playoff series are hard,” Suns coach Monty Williams said when the series ended, lauding New Orleans’ effort throughout. “Even if you sweep a team, that last game is going to be a battle. So yeah, this certainly helped us. This is not an eighth seed. No way.”
This becomes the second consecutive year that Phoenix needed six games, and a taste of adversity, to get through Round 1. Last year was against LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers, who took a 2-1 series lead before the Suns won the final three games. This time, it was against a Pelicans team that needed two play-in victories to make the playoffs, finished the year 10 games under .500 but split the first four games and had more than a few moments they’ll savor from the matchup.
“This was a big-time battle,” Williams said. “You would expect a series like this later on in the playoffs. But I think there’s so much parity in the league now. You can’t walk into a first-round series without keeping your left up. You better keep your left up and duck because teams are throwing punches, right out the gate.”
The fight, Williams hopes, steels the Suns for what’s coming. Dallas eliminated Utah later Thursday night, giving Luka Doncic his first series win — and the Mavericks’ first trip to the second round since 2011, when they won the NBA title.
“I’m ready,” Doncic said in an on-court interview in Salt Lake City after the Mavericks advanced. “It’s going to be a fun series.”
The Suns probably agree and flew back from New Orleans feeling great, with good reason. The Suns got a closeout win on the road, which always boosts confidence. Paul played the perfect game. And Booker reported no issues with his hamstring.
“It’s big,” Paul said. “Having Book back is everything.” (AP)