NEW ORLEANS — With the top-seeded Phoenix Suns in some danger with one star hurt and an ascendant Pelicans team giving them problems, future Hall of Famer Chris Paul delivered a signature series performance, including the best shooting game of his career to finish the close out.
Riding his favorite play, Paul made NBA playoff history as he became the first player ever to make 14-of-14 shots on his way to 33 points to lead a comeback 115-109 Game 6 victory Thursday night.
Only Wilt Chamberlain has made more without a miss, once going 18-of-18 and another time 16-of-16, both in regular-season games.
Paul’s biggest was his last one, a 10-foot pull-up in the lane with 28 seconds left that bounced around the rim before dropping. Combined with two 19-point fourth quarters earlier in the series and a 16-point first half in the pivotal Game 5, Paul was clearly the difference-maker in getting his team to the second round.
“It’s unbelievably special, you have no idea how special it is for me,” said Paul, who played his first six seasons in New Orleans and has a lot of connections in the city and with the Pelicans. “I had no clue (hadn’t missed). At halftime I realized I might need to shoot a little bit more.”
It was needed as Devin Booker missed three and a half games with a hamstring injury. Booker battled through it to return Thursday and wasn’t quite himself as he scored just 13 points. But he did make a vital 3-pointer with 1:42 left that gave the Suns the lead for good, off a feed from Paul, of course.
“Nobody has seen this, 14-for-14, it gives you the utmost confidence playing with him,” said Booker, who denied Paul a perfect night as he demanded $100 to settle a bet because Paul had more than two turnovers (he had 3 with eight assists).
“I was just making sure my body was ready. I was confident in it, I tested it, got some good work in yesterday and I knew the adrenaline was going to kick in.”
The Pelicans threw everything at him but Paul scored on seven different defenders. Most of them came in his trademark style, from the midrange off screens set by Deandre Ayton as he repeatedly got to his favorite spots for comfortable shots despite pressure. Paul made 11 shots outside the paint, the most without a miss in the NBA in the last 25 years, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
The Suns rode the play to a hot streak in the third quarter, making 13 of their first 14 shots after halftime to erase a 10-point Pelicans lead. Paul made six jumpers in the quarter and Ayton, who started the game making his first seven shots, made two. Ayton finished with 22 points on 10-of-12 shooting, a devastating 1-2 punch.
Paul and Ayton’s combined 24-for-26 shooting was the highest combined field goal percentage by teammates (92.3%) in a playoff game in the shot-clock era (minimum 20 attempts), according to Elias Sports Bureau.
“I don’t believe in heat checks, I don’t shoot enough to take a heat check and once I miss I might be cold,” Paul said. “They were sort of letting me get to my spots.”
“I believe in the heat check though,” Booker joked. “14-for-15 looks better than 14-of-14 to me. I’ll never have one of these games.”
Overall, Paul went a combined 18-for-18 on field goals and free throws, becoming just the fifth player to achieve that perfection in the shot clock era and the first to do so in the playoffs, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.
The Suns also changed their style on Pelicans’ star Brandon Ingram, who was hard to handle for most of the series. Coach Monty Williams threw double teams at him, and Ingram struggled to get space as he made just 8-of-17 shots for 21 points with 11 rebounds.
But it was a night, and a series, that belonged to Paul.
“When you win and he does that in a close-out game, that’s special,” Williams said. “We have a phrase: We celebrate everything. And when a player like Chris who’s given so much to the game and invested so much to be in positions like that has a night like this, you want to make sure you recognize it.”