LOS ANGELES — One last run was coming and everyone in Staples Center knew it.
All playoffs long, whenever the Clippers’ backs were against the wall, no matter who they had left standing, they made a big push — this is the most resilient team in franchise history.
It came late in the third quarter, a 10-0 run that had Stapes Center rocking and owner Steve Ballmer losing all sense of personal space. The Clippers had trailed by as many as 17 but the lead was down to seven and this was it — if there was to be a Game 7, it was because the Clippers had one more comeback.
Then Chris Paul took over.
Paul had a personal 8-0 run and scored 24-of-30 to end the Clippers’ chances and their season.
CHRIS. PAUL. SHEESH. 😧 pic.twitter.com/uTjAZiSBlA
— NBA TV (@NBATV) July 1, 2021
In a building where freak injuries and occurrences kept him from lifting the Clippers to the same heights, Chris Paul lived up to his Point God reputation — 41 points on 16-24 shooting, 31 of those points in the second half, 7-of-8 from 3, eight assists. CP3 scored or assisted on 59 points.
And for the first time in his career, Paul is headed to the NBA Finals.
In the end, the Suns won 130-103 to take Game 6 and with it the Western Conference Finals 4-2.
Phoenix is headed to the NBA Finals for the first time since 1993. Those Finals will begin next Tuesday or Thursday (depending upon how long the Atlanta vs. Milwaukee series goes, it is currently tied 2-2).
Phoenix saved its best basketball of the series for the biggest game in its season.
From the opening tip, the Suns looked like themselves again with player and ball movement, guys cutting and driving, things that had escaped them in recent games. They just looked sharp.
It helped that Chris Paul came out more aggressive. The Clippers had played off him this series, trying to make him a jump shooter, and in Game 6 he drove into that space and attacked like a much younger version of himself. Early on, Paul also was getting the ball to Deandre Ayton in deep position, and the big man started 5-of-6 from the floor, punishing the Clippers small, switching lineups (Los Angeles went away from the zone they had used last game, which the Suns had started to figure out).
All that gave the Suns a four-point lead after one, but a feisty Clippers team was hanging around.
Phoenix’s lead stretched out to nine by the half because the threes kept falling — 10-of-17 overall for Phoenix in the first half, with Jae Crowder leading the way shooting 4-of-6. The Clippers would have been down by more if not for a strong first half from Marcus Morris, who had 13 points on 5-of-8 shooting (he would finish the game with 26 points to lead Los Angeles).
“I think we just ran out of gas,” Clippers coach Tyronn Lue said, hinting at the fact the Clippers had played every other day since June 2 without a break. “When you get tired, the first things that breaks down is mentally. In the first half, we just had a lot of mistakes. We just didn’t have it.”
The Clippers also didn’t have Kawhi Leonard, out with a knee sprain all series, and this was a game where he was needed more than most.
Early in the second half the Suns kept growing the lead, little by little, and the ultimate result felt more and more inevitable as the lead climbed near 20.
Chris Paul and the Suns withstood it.
“We’ve talked about poise with this team for a long time, and tonight that paid off,” Suns coach Monty Williams said.
Not all the Clippers maintained their poise — Patrick Beverley was ejected for a cheap shove in the back of Chris Paul midway through the fourth quarter. Not even Beverley was going to argue that one (and he will argue anything). It was his frustration spilling over.
The Suns earned this win. They were the better team for much of the series and showed plenty of grit and heart of their own.
And Chris Paul was not going to let them lose.
“I just been on the other end of so many losses, I knew how that feels. Jae [Crowder] and I talked before the game, we had put in the work,” Paul said.
He felt it was his time, the Suns’ time.
And for the first time, Chris Paul is in the NBA Finals.