Chris Paul hugged Phoenix Suns coach Monty Williams in pure joy while they took in every emotion they worked so hard far.
The Suns advanced into their first NBA Finals in 28 years, defeating the Los Angeles Clippers 130-103 on Wednesday night to close out the Western Conference finals in six games at Staples Center.
“I was on a don’t-lose mission,” Paul said. “Just a lot of emotion. A lot of (things) going on.”
Phoenix will play in its third finals appearance in franchise history and will host either the Atlanta Hawks or Milwaukee Bucks for the Larry O’Brien NBA Championship Trophy.
Paul was incredible and embraced the moment, recording 41 points and eight assists, Devin Booker added 22 and seven rebounds.
“This is what we set out to get tonight, so we didn’t want to go back to Phoenix without it,” Booker said.
Paul and Williams were the focal points of the New Orleans Hornets in the 2010-11 season, they reconnected a decade later and are now on their way to leading a young Suns team to its first ever potential title.
“I’m grateful that I get to coach him again. When I first had him in 2010, and he went on actually to come here [to play in Los Angeles with the Clippers], in your wildest dreams you couldn’t have put it together in this way. So, to watch him out there tonight, I was so grateful to be on his side,” Williams said of his relationship with Paul.
Jae Crowder made five three-pointers and finished with 19 points. Deandre Ayton added 16 points and 17 rebounds.
Crowder stands as the only Phoenix player with NBA Finals experience as he just reached one last season with the Miami Heat.
“Hats off to Phoenix,” Clippers coach Ty Lue said. “Monty Williams is one of the best coaches in the league.”
The Suns made 17 of 31 shots from three-point range and held a 54-34 edge in the points in the paint.
Marcus Morris led the Clippers with 26 points. Paul George had 21 points and nine rebounds after dropping a career-high 41 in Game 5.
George did all he could without his star teammate in Kawhi Leonard, who was unable to play in the series due to a knee sprain.
He scored 20 points in 19 playoff games and finished the postseason averaging 29.6 points, 11 rebounds and 5.6 assists in eight games without Leonard.
“We had the pieces we needed, the pieces just got hurt in the process,” said George.
“Healthy or not healthy, we were literally within one possession of each game going into this point… But at the same time, we understand the healthiest team usually wins at this time,” George added.
The Clippers were the first team in NBA history to come back down from 2-0 twice in the same playoffs and nearly did it three times but falling two games short.
“What we did here was special,” Lue said on the playoff run.
Reggie Jackson finished with 13 points and eight assists for the Clippers, Patrick Beverly added 11.
“I’m forever thankful to this group… That group revitalized me,” Jackson said with tears falling down his eyes on the Clippers embracing him. “I appreciate every guy in that locker room… I’m thankful for everything I experienced here.”
Phoenix led 66-57 at halftime and only turned up their intensity in the second half.
Paul scored or assisted on 16 of the Suns 31 points in the third quarter and the Suns looked to their veteran leader to end the series.
He closed on a personal 8-0 run, including two 3-pointers, extending the Suns lead to 97-83 to start the fourth and finished with 31 second half points.
Paul outscored the Clippers in the final 13:30 of game, making 10 of 12 shots, 5 of 5 shooting from three-point range for 27 points. The Clippers scored only 21 during that period.
“16 years of this…surgeries. Hard work. Losses. Bad losses. But we’re gonna enjoy tonight,” Paul said.
With 5:48 remaining and the game out of hand with a 118-92 advantage, Paul stared at Beverley and the Clippers guard took it personally. Beverley shoved Paul with force in the back, sending him to the floor and was quickly ejected after the replay review.
“We know we broke them,” said Crowder on the incident. “There’s no better sign of defeat than knowing that moment, that moment where it’s like competition meets and … you can’t do anything else to help your team overcome that situation. He just broke. That’s what we were trying to reach.”
“I think it’s a shock to a lot of guys in that locker room, and that tells you a lot about the team,” Lue said. “I thought we ran out of gas … and the first thing that goes when you get tired and fatigued is mentally – and in that first half we made a lot of mistakes.”
“Phoenix did a hell of a job,” Lue added. “CP was fantastic. Booker is a star at a young age, and they have a good foundation. They played a hell of a series and go from there.”