PHOENIX – – Mikal Bridges played his 47th minute in basketball Tuesday night when he jumped up in the air, threw a giant two-handed jam down and pulled himself up on the rim with a small taunt for the sake of good order.
He’s the man who does everything for these Phoenix Suns. And no, he’s not even close to being tired.
Bridges scored 31 points and blocked four shots in arguably the best game of this pro career, leading the Suns over the New Orleans Pelicans 112-97 to take a 3-2 lead in the Western Conference series in the first round.
“I’m ready to play tomorrow,” Bridges said with a big laugh at the post-game press conference. “I’m energetic, my teammates keep me going. I’m scratching my knee right now when I talk about it. I’m ready, I love being out there with my teammates. They are my best friends, it makes it a lot easier. ”
Chris Paul added 22 points and 11 assists, returning from an underdog performance in Game 4. Deandre Ayton added 19 points and nine rebounds.
The Suns were never behind, but also never completely withdrew until the final few minutes against the fierce Pelicans. Once again, Phoenix found a way to close, improving to 50-0 this season as he led after three quarters, including 3-0 in this series.
Bridges closed out the Suns’ scoring with two emphatic dunks at the last minute.
Brandon Ingram scored 22 points and CJ McCollum added 21 points for New Orleans, which was hurt by a slow start and 15 turnovers.
“I just thought we were making some timely mistakes, starting with the turnover,” Pelicans coach Willie Green said. “Fifteen turnovers for 23 points that nurture their team and nurture their transition opportunities. This is an area where we know we need to get better.”
The Suns took an 89-78 lead into the final quarter after Cameron Payne’s late 3-pointer. The Pelicans – only 36-46 in the regular season – pulled within seven points with less than two minutes left, but Cameron Johnson threw a one-handed jam on the ensuing quick break to keep the Suns in control.
Phoenix will try to win the series in Game 6 on Thursday in New Orleans. If the first five matches are any indication, it will not be easy.
It was an ironman performance for Bridges, who played 47 out of 48 minutes, but who never looked tired. He made 12 of 17 shots from the field, blocked four shots, grabbed five rebounds and had two steals.
The ranked 25-year-old – who was one of three finalists for the NBA’s Defensive Player of the Year Award – has never missed a game in his four-year NBA career, where he has played in 309 games in the regular season and 27 more in the off-season. .
“He does not miss matches, he guards the best players every night and then he has 31,” said Paul.
Phoenix played its third game in a row without All-Star guard Devin Booker, who was still out with a tense right hind thigh that happened in Game 2.
Phoenix led by as many as 17 during 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.
“We have to change the way we start a match and come out with energy,” Pelicans center Jonas Valanciunas said. “If we did not have that match in the first half, it would have been a different match.
Paul was annoyed after the fight over a technical error he received in the fourth quarter. It came at a crucial time: The Suns only led 100-92 with 4:39 left.
The point guard got the technical after being whistled for an eight-second violation. Paul claimed that all he was saying was “C’mon” at the goal scorer’s table because he was hoping for a review.
“It’s out of control, it’s ridiculous,” Paul said. “That’s what it is. We’re not trying to get fourth-quarter technologies on our team. That’s a big thing.”
Speaking of dissatisfaction with officials, Suns coach Monty Williams was fined $ 15,000 for publicly criticizing the referee 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 advantage in fouls during Game 4, which the Suns lost.
Pelicans: Jose Alvarado was once again tough on defense, forcing the eight-second call in the fourth quarter against Paul, resulting in a turnover and technical error on Paul. … New Orleans shot only 5 of 25 (20%) from 3-point range.
Suns: Booker has trained at the team’s training facility, but it is still unclear when he will be able to return. … Payne gave the Suns a seven-point boost in the first quarter. He averaged just 4.8 points through the first four games of the series. … Phoenix was only 1 of 9 from 3-point range before closing the first half by hitting 4 of 6.