After losing Game 4 Sunday in New Orleans, the Phoenix Suns responded like a top overall seed in beating the Pelicans, 112-97, in Tuesday’s pivotal Game 5 before a sellout crowd of 17,071 at Footprint Center in taking a 3-2 series lead.
“I thought, for the most part, we maintained the level of intensity tonight,” Suns coach Monty Williams said. “Our game discipline was about as good as we’ve seen in the playoffs for sure. I thought our guys were locked in to what we were trying to do.”
Deandre Ayton, Chris Paul and Mikal Bridges combined for 72 points as the Suns were without injured Devin Booker for a third straight game in this best-of-7 series.
Bridges scored a career-high playoff 31 in 47 minutes, which is also a career-high playoff, Paul went for 22 while Ayton added 19.
“I’m ready to play tomorrow,” Bridges said about his energy level after Game 5. “I’m teed up, man. I’m energized, my teammates keep me going. You got me itching my knee right now because I’m talking about it. I need to calm down, I need to breathe, but I’m just ready, man. I love being out there, I love playing with my teammates, man.”
Phoenix now has a chance to close out the series Thursday in New Orleans. If the Pelicans win Game 6, which will be played at 4:30 pm Arizona time and shown on TNT/Bally Sports Arizona, there will be a decisive Game 7 Saturday in Phoenix.
“It’s tough, it’s tough,” Paul said about closing out a series on the road. “I’m sure they’re going to come out with a lot of energy, especially at home. I don’t know some of them games, guys play 48, 46 minutes. It’s do or die, so we have to play with a sense of urgency also because it’s a big game for us too.”
The Suns will likely be without Booker for Game 6. The three-time All-Star has been sidelined with a strained right hamstring suffered in the third quarter of Game 2.
Phoenix played much better without him Tuesday in winning Game 5.
“Defense, for sure,” said Ayton when asked what was the difference in the game, “Accepting the physicality, not worrying about calls not going our way, not letting the offense dictate our defense, and letting the defense create our offense. That was the main motto today and it showed out there, and we played together.”
The Suns scored 23 points off 15 turnovers by the Pelicans, shot 37% from 3 and racked up 23 bench points. Cameron Payne awakened with 12 points off the bench after scoring 19 total in the first four games of this series on 29.6% shooting.
Playing through foul trouble, Payne shot 2-of-3 from 3 after misfiring on all of his 12 attempts from 3 entering Game 5.
“He gave us a jolt when he came in,” Williams said. “If he could’ve stayed out of foul trouble, who knows what he is the night would’ve been like, but I loved his aggression. I don’t want him thinking out there. I want him to play the way he’s capable. ”
Phoenix led 59-46 at the half as Paul led the Suns with 16 points at the break on 6-of-12 shooting and six assists to zero turnovers in 21 minutes.
This was after scoring just four points on 2-of-8 shooting in Game 4 as Paul tied a career playoff-low for points. He had 11 assists, but turned the ball over three times in Sunday’s loss.
Ayton added 13 in the first half as Phoenix shot 52.3% from the field.
Brandon Ingram and CJ McCollum paced the Pelicans with 13 and 12 points, respectively, in the first half, but Jonas Valanciunas only had four points on 2-of-5 shooting after churning out 26 in Game 4.
Valanciunas only played 13 minutes in the first half as he was saddled with foul trouble.
Ingram finished with a team-high 22 points, McCollum went for 21 and Valanciunas ended his night with 17 points and 14 rebounds.
“I thought they did a good job of coming out and playing desperate,” Pelicans coach Willie Green said as the Pelicans were outscored, 32-20, in the first quarter. “They played hard, they competed. To start the game, it was physical and they kind of knocked us on our heels early. We did a better job the rest of the game but we have to start better.”
Have opinion about the current state of the Suns? Reach Suns Insider Duane Rankin at email@example.com or contact him at 480-787-1240. Follow him on Twitter at @DuaneRankin.
Support local journalism. Start your online subscription.