Paul stars as Suns rout Clippers to reach NBA finals

Paul was the architect of the Suns win, the 36-year-old, 11-time NBA All-Star drawing on all of his experience to get Phoenix over the line.

Phoenix Suns' guard Chris Paul in action.   -  AP

Chris Paul erupted for 41 points to lead the Phoenix Suns into the NBA Finals on Wednesday with a series-clinching 130-103 victory over the Los Angeles Clippers.

The Suns - who squandered the opportunity to wrap up the Western Conference Finals at home on Monday -- rebounded at the Staples Center with an emphatic win, taking the best-of-seven series 4-2.

Phoenix will face either the Milwaukee Bucks or Atlanta Hawks in the best-of-seven championship round. It is only the third NBA Finals appearance in franchise history for the Suns, and the team's first since 1993.

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The Suns had failed to even reach the playoffs for 10 consecutive seasons prior to the 2020-2021 campaign.

Paul was the architect of the Suns win, the 36-year-old, 11-time NBA All-Star drawing on all of his experience to get Phoenix over the line.

It means that Paul will finally have the chance to shed his tag as one of the greatest players in NBA history to never win a championship.

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In 16 glittering seasons in the league, Paul has never reached the NBA Finals in a career littered with near-misses during spells with the New Orleans, the Los Angeles Clippers, the Houston Rockets, Oklahoma City and Phoenix.

"Damn this feels good," said Paul, who joined the Suns last year from Oklahoma City. "It has a been a lot of work, going to a new team, everybody staying the course.

"Sixteen years of this, 16 years of surgeries, of hard work, of losses -- bad losses. We're going to enjoy tonight.

"I'm just so happy for all the people around me. To do it here against a team I have the utmost respect for -- I'll always be a Clipper. I love these fans."

The Suns looked to be cruising to victory after jumping into a 17-point lead near the end of the third quarter.

- Beverley ejected - 

However, the Clippers came roaring back with 10 unanswered points to cut the lead to seven, Nicolas Batum's three-pointer rousing the home fans into thinking another comeback was on the cards.

However, Paul took that rally as his cue to impose himself on the contest, rattling off eight points without reply to restore a healthy Suns cushion at 97-82.

A four-point play from Paul midway through the fourth quarter took the Suns to a 19-point lead at 111-92, and there was no way back for the Clippers.

With Phoenix effectively bottling up Clippers ace Paul George -- the 41-point hero from game five -- the Clippers' frustration mounted.

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Another Paul three-pointer put the Suns 118-92 ahead, and the Clippers Patrick Beverley boiled over -- shoving the Suns veteran to the ground and promptly being ejected from the game.

Paul's 41-point effort was backed with double-digit contributions from Devin Booker with 22 points, Jae Crowder with 19 points and Deandre Ayton with 16 points.

"When we channel our energy the right way we can make big things happen like tonight," Booker said afterwards. 

"This is what we set out to get tonight. We didn't want to go back to Phoenix without the trophy. We didn't want a game seven. We wanted to get it done tonight."

Marcus Morris Sr. led the Clippers scoring with 26 points while George added 21.

The Clippers had been battling against the odds throughout the playoffs, losing both talisman Kawhi Leonard and Serge Ibaka to injuries.

Clippers coach Tyronn Lue declined to speculate on what might have been with a healthy roster.

"There's nothing you can do about it. It's part of the game," Lue said. "Our team shows a lot of character. We're down. No pointing fingers, we're sticking together."

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