The Phoenix Suns will be playing in the NBA Finals for the first time since 1993 after defeating the host Los Angeles Clippers 130-103 in Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals on Wednesday at Staples Center.
Chris Paul's 41 points on 16-of-24 shooting (7-of-8 from three-point range) and eight assists guided the Suns, who also benefitted from Devin Booker's 22 points and Deandre Ayton's 16-point, 17-rebound double-double.
Phoenix shot 56.4 percent from the field and hit 17-of-31 three-pointers. A 16-3 run that spanned the end of the third quarter and the beginning of the fourth gave Phoenix a comfortable 105-85 lead en route to the 27-point win.
Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard remained out with a right knee sprain that has kept him sidelined for the entire series. Marcus Morris Sr. led L.A. with 26 points in his absence. Paul George had 21 points on 6-of-15 shooting.
Phoenix won the best-of-seven matchup four games to two.
Suns PG Chris Paul: 41 points, 8 assists, 3 steals
Suns SG Devin Booker: 22 points, 7 rebounds, 4 assists
Suns C Deandre Ayton: 16 points, 17 rebounds
Clippers F Paul George: 21 points, 9 rebounds
Clippers G Reggie Jackson: 13 points, 8 assists
Clippers F Marcus Morris Sr.: 26 points, 9 rebounds
CP3 Dominates En Route To First-Ever Finals Appearance
Chris Paul has played professional basketball for 16 seasons, and his future Hall of Fame resume includes 11 All-Star appearances, 10 All-NBA team nods and nine All-NBA Defensive Team honors. He's also led the NBA in assists four times and steals on six other occasions.
That's all in addition to a pair of Olympic gold medals on a phenomenal resume that pretty much has everything outside an NBA MVP and an NBA championship.
CP3 has the great chance to check off the latter accomplishment as the Suns march onto the championship for the first time in 28 years.
Paul propelled Phoenix to the Finals on Wednesday with an absolutely masterful performance. Among other highlights, he found Mikal Bridges with a beautiful alley-oop pass and nailed a few early threes in a first half that saw Phoenix lead by nine at the break:
Paul had 10 points and four dimes at the intermission, but he put this game away in the second half.
His efforts include nailing a three-pointer over Nicolas Batum:
That three was part of a personal 8-0 run that turned an 89-82 edge into a 97-82 lead, and from there, Phoenix did not look back.
Any hope the Clippers had in the fourth quarter was quickly extinguished by Paul, who scored another 19 points in the final frame. He also ended up scored 14 of Phoenix's points during a 16-3 run that ended with the Suns leading 105-85.
A quick baseline jumper gave him 28 for the game:
Shortly thereafter, Paul converted on a four-point play to effectively put this one away for good:
CP3 steps back and this time it's a 4-point play... he's got 32 PTS!<a href="https://twitter.com/Suns?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@Suns</a> 111<a href="https://twitter.com/LAClippers?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@LAClippers</a> 92<br><br>4th quarter of Game 6 on ESPN <a href="https://t.co/ptlTyIrZKe">pic.twitter.com/ptlTyIrZKe</a>
Paul kept it rolling though, knocking down this three over Morris and eventually ending with 31 second-half points.
StatMuse gave another glimpse at Paul's night:
ESPN Stats & Info noted his special scoring accomplishment in light of his 36 years of age.
ESPN Stats & Info @ESPNStatsInfo
Chris Paul finishes with 41 points, tying his playoff career-high. <br><br>It's the 2nd-most in a playoff game by a player at age 36 or older in NBA history. Karl Malone scored 50 in 2000 against the SuperSonics. <a href="https://t.co/S8IPZH52zY">pic.twitter.com/S8IPZH52zY</a>
Paul was nothing short of sensational, and Memphis Grizzlies point guard Ja Morant noted how easy everything appeared to the all-time great:
Marc J. Spears of the Undefeated also said that Paul played the "greatest game of his Hall of Fame career."
That's a hard statement to argue, and because of it, Paul and the Suns cruised into the championship.
Clippers' Valiant Effort Sans Leonard Falls Short
It's not easy to replace a player who averages 24.8 points, 6.5 rebounds, 5.2 assists and 1.6 steals per game, let alone a clutch playoff performer like a two-time NBA Finals MVP in Leonard.
However, that's what the Clippers were tasked with this series as Leonard was sidelined with a right knee injury.
To the Clippers' credit, they didn't go away quietly after Leonard ended up being done for the season after Game 4 of their Western Conference second-round playoff series with the Utah Jazz.
L.A. defeated the top-seeded Jazz in its next two games sans Leonard to move onto the Western Conference Finals.
After a close 120-114 loss in Game 1, the Clips nearly picked off Phoenix in their own arena in Game 2 before Ayton's game-winning alley-oop dunk gave the Suns the 104-103 buzzer-beating win.
L.A. then took down Game 3, 106-92 as George (27 points, 15 rebounds) and Ivica Zubac (15 points, 16 rebounds) guided the Clippers.
The Clips never led in Game 4 and trailed by as many as 16, but they fought back and cut the Suns' lead to 79-78 before eventually falling 84-80.
Game 5 was all Clips, with George's 41 points pushing the Clippers to their second 14-point win in this series, this time by a 116-102 score.
Game 6 was the first true Suns blowout in this series, as Paul forced the Clippers to wave the white flag early. No one was stopping Paul and Phoenix on this night as the hot-shooting Suns glided into the championship round.
Ultimately, the better team won and is moving onto the NBA Finals, but the fact that the Clippers got as far as they did in the playoffs without their best player is still an impressive accomplishment.
The Phoenix Suns will play either the Milwaukee Bucks or Atlanta Hawks in the NBA Finals. The Bucks and Hawks are tied at two games apiece in their Eastern Conference Finals series.
The Suns will have homecourt advantage in the NBA Finals against either team.