The drought is over.
For the first time in his 13-year career, Chris Paul is headed to the Western Conference Finals after he led the Houston Rockets to a 112-102 Game 5 win over the Utah Jazz at Toyota Center on Tuesday night.
Paul, whose teams failed to qualify for the Western Conference Finals in each of his previous nine postseason appearances, finished the series clincher with a playoff career-high 41 points, 10 assists, seven rebounds and zero turnovers to fend off a fierce Jazz charge led by Donovan Mitchell.
While the rookie was limited to two points in the first half, he finished with 24 points and nine assists after erupting for 22 points in the third quarter as Utah fought to stay alive with Ricky Rubio and Dante Exum both out because of hamstring injuries.
Mitchell was so locked in that he outscored Houston in the third quarter, 22-21, to put the Jazz up by three entering the final frame. However, he left with 7:09 remaining in the fourth quarter after suffering a left foot injury and did not return.
That opened the door for the Rockets to slam the door shut, and Paul seized the moment by dropping 20 fourth-quarter points as he squashed a pesky narrative that had come to define his past decade in the NBA:
Paul's closing flurry also helped compensate for an off night from James Harden, who appeared tentative and a tad sluggish attacking the teeth of a Jazz defense commandeered by shot-blocking maven Rudy Gobert.
Absent a rhythm, Harden finished with 18 points on 7-of-22 shooting, four assists and three turnovers. He was also limited to four free-throw attempts with Gobert (five blocks) constantly lurking as a rim-protecting deterrent in the paint.
Harden may have been operating at less than 100 percent, according to head coach Mike D'Antoni:
But thanks to Paul and P.J. Tucker (19 points, 5-of-7 shooting from three), the Rockets had just enough juice to get past a resilient Jazz team that could have serious staying power:
Now through to the Western Conference Finals for the first time since 2015, Houston will wait to see whether it will square off against the second-seeded Golden State Warriors or sixth-seeded New Orleans Pelicans with a trip to the NBA Finals on the line.