Epic night from Chris Paul holds off Clippers, lifts Suns into NBA Finals


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.

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.

But everyone knew that run was coming. Paul George helped sparked the run, and he finished with 21, while Reggie Jackson had 13.

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.

It was.

And for the first time, Chris Paul is in the NBA Finals.

Joel Embiid scores 46 but 76ers still fall short against Poole, Warriors


SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Jordan Poole emerged as one of Golden State’s most dependable performers during the championship run last season.

He resembled that go-to guy once again Friday night when the Warriors needed everything he had, with the ever-reliable Draymond Green doing his thing, too.

“Opportunity,” Poole said of his stellar fourth quarter playing all 12 minutes.

Poole scored 33 points and swished a key 3-pointer with 1:18 to play off a pretty pass by Green, Stephen Curry added 29 points and eight rebounds, and the Golden State Warriors rallied past Joel Embiid and the Philadelphia 76ers 120-112 on Friday night.

“Tonight something about it felt like last year in that playoff run when Jordan was just attacking and knocking down shots but also getting to the line just giving us an entirely different dimension offensively,” coach Steve Kerr said. “That’s when he’s at his best. I thought he really competed down the stretch defensively as well. He was magnificent tonight.”

Embiid checked back into the game with 8:26 left and scored 13 straight on the way to 46 points.

But the Warriors came back from 11 down for their ninth straight home win — and one of the most important yet as they fight for playoff positioning.

Green noted: “Nobody wants to be in that play-in, the play-in is dangerous.”

Curry dribbled the baseline and around Embiid for a go-ahead jumper with 2:20 to play. Klay Thompson tied it at 104 with 5:05 left, only for Embiid to drive straight down the key for a dunk. He did miss consecutive shots in crunch time, too.

Poole’s driving dunk with 8:27 left got Golden State back to 93-91 then Kevon Looney’s putback after Embiid blocked a layup try by Poole cut it to 102-101.

Embiid shot 13 for 23, made 19 of 22 free throws and had nine rebounds, eight assists and two steals. He helped Philadelphia take an 88-79 lead going into the fourth. He had his streak of scoring 30 or more points in a franchise-record 10 straight games snapped in Wednesday’s 116-91 win at Chicago but made up for it.

Golden State nemesis James Harden sat out with left Achilles soreness for the Sixers, who had won nine of 10 and 10 of 12.

Thompson added 21 points and six rebounds and Looney contributed six points, 10 rebounds and seven assists as the Warriors reached 30 home wins for the sixth time since 2014-15 and second in a row.

“You want to take care of home court as best as you can,” Poole said.

Green had 10 points, 10 assists and seven rebounds for Golden State, which had some momentum from two straight wins on the road following an 11-game skid away from Chase Center.

“I feel good. It’s that time of year you’ve got to turn everything up a notch,” Green said. “I love this time of year.”

Philadelphia, which had won the last two matchups, made 10 of 17 shots to start the game but missed its first eight 3-point tries before Georges Niang connected at the 8:06 mark of the second quarter.

Luka Dončić fined for money gesture toward referee after loss


The Mavericks were livid about the officiating in their loss to the Warriors, particularly the miscommunication about a third-quarter out-of-bounds play that gave Golden State an uncontested bucket in what ended up being a two-point game.

Frustrated or not, everyone knew Luka Dončić crossed a line and would get fined when he made a gesture suggesting the referees were paid off.

Friday the NBA came down with a $35,000 fine for Dončić “for directing an inappropriate and unprofessional gesture toward a game official.” While that’s a steep price it could have been much worse — the referee did not give Dončić a technical foul at the time, which would have been his 16th and triggered a one-game suspension without pay.

Dončić wasn’t the only person fined by the league for snapping at the officials, Suns coach Monty Williams was fined $20,000 on Friday “for public criticism of the officiating.” Williams was frustrated after losing to the Lakers on a night where Los Angeles got to the line 46 times to Phoenix’s 20.

“Where do you see a game with 46 free throws for one team?” Williams said after the game. “That’s just not right. I don’t care how you slice it. It is happening to us too much. Other teams are reaching, other teams are hitting, and we’re not getting the same call, and I’m tired of it. It’s old… I’m over it. Been talking about the same thing for a while. Doesn’t matter what team it is.”

It doesn’t matter what team it is for a reason. First, the Suns do not draw a lot of fouls because they are not a team that puts a lot of pressure on the rim (especially without Kevin Durant), they settle for jump shots. Second, they have the highest foul rate in the league — they foul a lot. Those two things will lead to a free throw disparity nightly (they had players who could draw fouls, Mikal Bridges is doing it now in Brooklyn, but the Suns didn’t put the ball in his and ask him to attack as the Nets have, Phoenix used him as a shooter and cutter off the ball more often).

The tensions between players and referees feel ratcheted up this season, and these are just the latest examples.

Report: Kevin Durant targeting March 29 return vs. Timberwolves


When Kevin Durant sprained his ankle during warmups, the Suns said he would be re-evaluated in three weeks. It turns out it may be more than a re-evaluation.

Durant is targeting a return almost three weeks to the day from when he injured himself, reports Shams Charania of The Athletic.

There has been no official update from the Suns, but Durant’s camp has always been optimistic about a return.

The Suns have gone 2-5 without Durant and slid into a virtual tie with the Clippers for the No. 4 seed in the West. If Durant returns Wednesday, Phoenix would have seven games left to hold off Los Angeles and retain home court in the first round of the playoffs. More importantly, they could generate some chemistry before the postseason begins.

Durant averaged 26.7 points and 7.3 assists a game with a ridiculous 80.8 true shooting percentage in his three games with the Suns, and the team won all three games. The fit seemed almost seamless and if the Suns can get back to that they are a threat to win the wide-open West.

It’s going to be a wild final couple of weeks in the West.

Where’s the beef? Anthony Davis says ‘Me and Bron have one of the best relationships’ in NBA


Whispers and reports of a split in the Lakers’ locker room and a beef between Anthony Davis and LeBron James gained momentum after Davis’ reaction to LeBron James breaking the all-time scoring record went viral. Talking Lakers drama is always an excellent way to get clicks/eyeballs/listeners and so once a rumor like a beef between the team’s two biggest stars begins rolling down the hill it does not stop.

Even if Davis says there is nothing to it, everything is good between him and LeBron. Here’s the quote he gave to Dave McMenamin of ESPN.

“Me and Bron have one of the best relationships I think in the NBA as far as duos or teammates, regardless,” Davis said. “But they don’t see that. They don’t see the stuff we do off the court and time we hang out with each other. They see on-court stuff.”

The reality is it doesn’t matter if LeBron and Davis are buddies, hanging out together drinking a lovely Pinot Noir and laughing behind Frank Vogel’s back. What matters is whether they can get along and thrive on the court. There’s a banner hanging in Crypto.com Arena that says they can if they stay healthy and management puts the right kinds of role players around them.

The healthy part is in the way right now, with LeBron out for at least a couple more weeks with a tendon foot injury (whether he returns before the season ends is up in the air). The Lakers are 7-5 in the dozen games he has missed with this injury thanks to a defense — anchored by Davis — that is third-best in the NBA over that stretch. That has kept their head above water, but the Lakers are in a tight race where six teams — from the 7-12 seeds, making up all the play-in teams and a couple that will miss out — are tied in the loss column at 37. The Lakers need more wins, including Friday night in a critical game against the Thunder.

The Lakers will need LeBron back — and LeBron and Davis to rekindle their on-court chemistry — if they are going to make any kind of a playoff run. First they just have to get to the postseason, which will fall more on Davis. Of late, he has looked up to the task.