NEW ORLEANS — The Point God was at it again.
Just five days after Chris Paul scored 19 fourth-quarter points to will the Phoenix Suns to a Game 1 victory, Paul scored 19 fourth-quarter points again on Friday night to lead the top-seeded Suns to a 114-111 win over the New Orleans Pelicans.
The victory gave the Suns a 2-1 series lead after the Pelicans stole a game in Phoenix.
According to ESPN Stats and Information research, Paul has now scored 19 points or more in the fourth quarter four times in his career.
“It’s just picking my spots. Finally had a couple shots go down, just trying to be aggressive and listen to DA,” Paul said, referring to teammate Deandre Ayton.
Ayton told Paul that he needed to stop passing the ball in the fourth quarter and that he needed to shoot more. Paul did just that, going 7-of-10 in the final frame, including 5-of-5 on his mid-range shots.
Ayton said he recognized that Paul was dishing it out the way he was supposed in the first three quarters, but said he recognized the Pelicans were switching up their defensive coverages in the fourth. That’s when he talked to Paul about it.
“I started hearing different terminology on the floor,” Ayton said, “and I’m telling C like, ‘They’re back to normal coverage, I’m gonna need you to shoot the ball. I’ll get a clean hit, I just need you to come off and shoot the ball.’ And he did it. That’s how it felt last year when he was taking over the fourth quarter.”
Paul finished with 28 points and 14 assists after entering the fourth quarter with nine points and 12 assists.
It was Paul’s second consecutive game with 14 assists and zero turnovers. According to ESPN Stats and Information, his 28 assists are the most in any two-game span without a turnover in the playoffs since turnovers became an official stat in 1977-98. The previous high was John Stockton’s 20 in 2001.
For years, JaVale McGee watched as Paul performed his magic against the teams he was on. This year, he has gotten a first-hand look.
“I’m impressed every time I see it,” McGee said of Paul. “He does the same thing. All game, he’ll facilitate to everybody else and then the fourth quarter comes, if we need him he steps up and starts hitting those middies and taking over. It’s just amazing the way he does it.”
Phoenix needed all of Paul’s big shots in the fourth quarter as the Pelicans made a run. The final quarter alone featured four lead changes and five ties, but it was Paul’s pull-up jumper with 5:26 to go that gave Phoenix the lead for good.
“I mean, he’s just one of those players that plays the right way,” Suns coach Monty Williams said. “He understands the when and how to create for himself and others. The leadership qualities that you guys don’t see in timeouts is probably just as impressive as what he does on the floor and you know what he does on the floor is so meaningful to the team.”
Phoenix guard Devin Booker missed the game with a right hamstring strain, and the Suns started Cam Johnson in his place. But with Johnson in foul trouble after the first half, Williams went with Landry Shamet to start the second half.
The teams return to the Smoothie King Center for Game 4 on Sunday.
“That’s a huge win for us, but I told our guys, we can’t get happy on the farm,” Williams said. “We’re gonna play a team that just won’t quit.”