DAN BICKLEY

Chris Paul’s cutthroat closing skills have Suns 10 wins away from NBA title

May 4, 2022, 10:48 PM | Updated: May 5, 2022, 8:44 am

PHOENIX — The NBA championship requires 16 playoff victories. Some will be masterpieces worthy of wall space in the Louvre. Some will belong in the paper shredder.

Some games you win and never speak of again. Like Game 2 of the Western Conference semifinals.

When the horn sounded and the whistles finally stopped blowing, the Suns had posted a 129-109 blowout victory. They elevated over their frustrations, the Mavericks and a maddening Ref Show/Foul-a-palooza. They own a commanding series lead, a four-game winning streak and are on the runway to a drama-free series victory.

And once again, you can thank their fearless leader.

Somewhere near the end of the third quarter, you could tell that Chris Paul had enough. He grabbed the reins from Luka Doncic. He started making shots. He started dishing assists. He unleashed his cutthroat closing skills, guiding the Suns on a 23-9 run that turned a tricky game into a foregone conclusion.

“Chris, the way he just continues to pick that spot when it’s time to take over, is really impressive,” Suns head coach Monty Williams said.

It had been a strange start to the series for the Point God. He was unhappy with his playing time in Game 1, barking at Williams when he was pulled from the game for load management purposes. He had only six assists in the first six quarters of the series, hounded by Dallas defenders up and down the court.

But Paul found his groove and his moment. And just like he did three times against the Pelicans, Paul took out his carving knife and extracted the heart of his opponent.

“It impresses us every time we see it, but it doesn’t surprise us,” Suns star Devin Booker said. “It’s just the will to win.”

The pull-away heroics from Paul and his teammates finally ignited the crowd at Footprint Center, harkening back to last year’s breakout performance from leather-lunged Suns fans. It was an audience somewhat muted for most of a postseason in progress.

To that end, the Suns actually posted a quote on their Jumbotron from Mavericks forward Reggie Bullock, who was not impressed with Phoenix fans in Game 1. It was a blatant attempt to give their Game 2 audience some additional motivation, the fuel and vitriol that comes so naturally when the opposing team is from Los Angeles.

The Suns did their part early. They staged another first quarter mugging, racing to the same 9-0 lead they posted in Game 1. And then the game went off the rails, ending up in a mud pit.

There were 30 personal fouls in the first half. Nine of them were offensive fouls. The Mavericks found their footing and their first lead of the series in strange fashion, with Doncic watching for nearly six minutes. It felt like an upset special was brewing, just like Game 2 against the Pelicans.

But Paul had other ideas. His scoring flurry seemed to crack the code and unlock the Suns’ offense. Devin Booker poured in 30 points. The scorching finish helped the Suns shoot 64.5 percent from the floor — a single postseason game franchise record — including 13-of-25 from beyond the three-point line.

“I don’t know if our guys expect it, but they’re grateful for it,” Williams said of Paul’s closing act. “He’s just a fantastic basketball player.”

After the game, Paul said closing out games was “fun, especially on the road.”  He said there are no secrets other than hard work, a team collectively adhering to the philosophy that you cannot cheat the game of basketball. Meanwhile, Jae Crowder admitted the Suns are in “good shape” after their sixth victory over the postseason.

Ten more gets them a trophy and a parade.

“I think everybody is on this Revenge Tour with us,” Booker said. “And it’s fun to be a part of it.”

Reach Bickley at dbickley@arizonasports.com. Listen to Bickley & Marotta weekdays from 6 a.m. – 10 a.m. on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station.

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