The top-seeded Phoenix Suns were braced for another fourth-quarter playoff fight on Thursday.
Point guard Chris Paul turned it into an early knockout.
The 12-time All-Star scored 28 points, including 14 in another spectacular final quarter, to lead the Suns over the Dallas Mavericks 129-109 for a 2-0 lead in their Western conference semi final.
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Paul, who turns 37 this week, almost single-handedly turned a tight game into a comfortable victory—the Suns’ 11th win in a row against the Mavericks counting regular-season games.
“You’ve just got to lean on the work,” he said.
“It all goes back to the work. You can’t cheat the game. You’ve got to do the strength and conditioning, you’ve got to lift, you’ve got to get your rest, you’ve got to get your shots up.
“When you do that, you live with the results.”
Suns guard Devin Booker said he’s run out of ways to describe Paul’s fourth-quarter heroics.
“You guys tell me, you’re watching the same thing,” he said.
“It impresses us every time we see it, but it doesn’t surprise us. It’s just the will to win.”
The Mavs led 60-58 at halftime but the Suns quickly recaptured the lead after Booker hit back-to-back 3-pointers early in the third. The Suns took an 89-83 advantage going into the final quarter and it looked like a tough fight was coming.
But that’s about the time Paul decided the game was his to control, hitting six shots in a row on everything from 3-pointers to mid-range jumpers to layups. The feisty Mavericks finally didn’t have an answer. Booker hits a pair of 3-pointers midway through the fourth to give the Suns a 114-95 lead.
Booker led the Suns with 30 points on 11-of-19 shooting, including 5 of 8 from 3-point range. The Suns shot 64.5 per cent overall — which was a franchise record in the playoffs — and made 52 per cent of their 3-pointers. They shot 84 per cent from the field (16 of 19) in the fourth quarter.
“We have good players,” Suns coach Monty Williams said.
“I’d love to sit here and tell you I’m moving the chess pieces around, but we have good players who can knock down shots.”
Game three is on Saturday in Dallas.
The Mavericks will go home in a 2-0 hole, desperately needing contributions from someone other than Luka Doncic, who scored 35 points on 13-of-22 shooting two nights after a 45-point performance in game one.
“He had a great game, but no one else showed,” Mavs coach Jason Kidd said.
“We’ve got to get other guys shooting the ball better. We can’t win with just him out there scoring 30 a night. Not this time of the year and playing the best team in the league.”
Reggie Bullock added 16 points for the Mavs.
“The mood is fine,” Doncic said.
“I think a lot of players, it’s the first time in this situation. They’ve got to win four, so it’s not over yet. We are going to go back home, our crowd is amazing.”
The Suns jumped out to a 9-0 lead for a second straight game, but the Mavericks had a better response than in game one.
Dallas slowly fought back and Spencer Dinwiddie hit a pair of free throws to tie the game at 38.
Davis Bertans followed with a 3-pointer with 7:56 left in the second quarter to give the Mavs a 41-38 advantage and their first lead of the series.
The Mavs took a two-point lead after a foul-filled first half. Doncic scored 24 before the break on 9-of-14 shooting, including 4 of 7 from 3-point range. Jae Crowder led the Suns with 15.
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