Chris Paul produced a perfect display of shooting to lead the Phoenix Suns to a series-clinching victory over New Orleans as Philadelphia and Dallas also advanced in the NBA playoffs on Thursday.
The 12-time All-Star Paul made 14-of-14 shots from the field to set a new postseason record as the Suns defeated the Pelicans 115-109 to complete a 4-2 series victory in the Big Easy.
It marked an emotional return to New Orleans for Paul, who began his professional career in the city with six seasons for the then-Hornets between 2005 and 2011.
“I always say this city raised me,” Paul said. “It’s nice to do it here in New Orleans… it’s home for me. I root for this team when I’m not playing against them.
“It’s unbelievably special. You have no clue what it’s like for me to walk into this building. Everybody that works here, they’re like part of my family. This is like my family. There’s nothing like playing in this city.”
The Suns were also buoyed by the return from injury of Devin Booker, whose 13-point haul included a crucial three-pointer late in the fourth quarter to edge Phoenix ahead.
“Having Book back was everything,” Paul added. “Down the stretch they started to blitz and they forgot we had Devin Booker standing over there on the wing.”
Booker paid tribute to the 36-year-old Paul.
“I’ve been watching him since I was eight years old,” Booker said. “It doesn’t surprise me.
“It gives you the utmost confidence, playing alongside him, knowing he’s going to take care of the ball, knowing that the ball is going to find the right person, on time, on target.”
The Suns will play the Dallas Mavericks in the Western Conference semi-finals.
The Mavericks dug deep to defeat Utah 98-96 on the road in Salt Lake City to complete a 4-2 series win over the Jazz.
Luka Doncic and Jalen Brunson scored 24 points apiece as Dallas fought back from a 12-point third-quarter deficit for a gutsy win.
Utah’s Bogdan Bogdanovic missed a wide-open three to win the game on the buzzer as Dallas escaped with victory.
The Philadelphia Sixers made sure there was no chance of a game seven decider as they thrashed the Raptors 132-97 in Toronto to seal a 4-2 series victory.
Philadelphia now face Eastern Conference top seeds Miami for a place in the conference finals.
Sixers star Joel Embiid, who has been bothered by torn ligaments in his thumb in recent games, delivered a dominant 33-point display which also included 10 rebounds, three blocks and two steals.
MVP candidate Embiid was given backing by Tyrese Maxey with 25 points while James Harden also came up big with 22 points, 15 assists and six rebounds.
It was a welcome return to form for the Sixers, who had looked vulnerable after losing games four and five to Toronto, having led the series 3-0.
“We had a great practise yesterday and we needed that,” said Embiid, who said the Sixers had been motivated by their back-to-back losses.
“It was a blessing in disguise to lose those two games because that wasn’t us,” he said. “We didn’t play the way we wanted to. We were extremely sloppy.
“Tonight we wanted to come in here and play with more intensity. Especially me. I was really bad last game defensively. I wanted to play with a lot of energy and be physical.”
Maxey said the Sixers had been ready for a “fight.”
“Whether we get hit in the mouth we get back up and keep fighting and that’s what we did tonight,” he said.
“Joel (Embiid) told me on the plane on the way up here ‘We lose if we don’t be aggressive.’ And that’s what I tried to do.”
The Sixers edged into a 62-61 lead at halftime after two hard-fought opening quarters.
But Philadelphia erupted after the break to outscore Toronto 37-17 in the third quarter and effectively ice the contest.
The Sixers kept the hammer down in the fourth quarter, never giving Toronto any kind of opportunity to cut into Philadelphia’s double-digit lead.
Tobias Harris added 19 points for Philadelphia while Danny Green also posted a double-digit total with 12 points.
Chris Boucher led the Raptors with 25 points off the bench while Pascal Siakam added 24.
Sixers coach Doc Rivers is relishing the prospect of a series against in-form Miami.
“They’re deep, they’re veterans, they’re grown men,” Rivers said. “We’re looking forward to the challenge.”