Leading up to Tuesday night’s Game 5 Western Conference semifinal matchup between the No. 1 seed Phoenix Suns and the No. 4 seed Dallas Mavericks, there were debates among those following the series as to whether age and fatigue had caught up with Chris Paul.
The Suns’ point guard, one of the best in the history of basketball, had not performed at his usual Hall of Fame level in the series’ four games prior to Tuesday, as his team found themselves in a hard-fought battle with their opponent. Returning to their home court after playing the opening two games on the road, the Mavericks forced Paul into an uncharacteristic seven turnovers on his 37th birthday last Friday in Game 3 in a 103-94 win.
On Sunday, head coach Jason Kidd’s squad limited the 17-year veteran to four points in 23 minutes in Game 4 before he fouled-out as their 111-101 victory tied the series at 2-2. “I’ve just got to look at myself and figure out how to do better.”
Conversely, Paul’s 23-year counterpart, the Mavericks’ uber-talented 22-year-old guard Luka Donic, had imposed his will and skill on the Suns, scoring a combined 52 points in Games 3 and 4. With the series returning to Phoenix for Game 5, Paul didn’t silence skeptics afterwards despite the Suns’ blowing out the Mavericks 110-80 to take a 3-2 lead going into Game 6 tonight in Dallas.
Although the Suns, who were led by All-Star guard Devin Booker’s 28 points, took complete command of the contest after outscoring the Mavericks 33-14 in the third quarter to go into the fourth up 82-60, Paul didn’t display his normal offensive aggressiveness, finishing with a final stat line of seven points on 3-8 shooting and 10 assists in 35 minutes.
Suns head coach Monty Williams, who earlier this week was named the 2022 NBA Coach of the Year, will try to compel his team to close out the series tonight in Game 6 in Dallas. If not, Game 7 will be in Phoenix on Sunday. The West’s No. 2 seed, the Memphis Grizzlies, were facing elimination at home last night in Game 5 versus the No. 3 seed Golden State Warriors.
With the Grizzlies’ sensational 22-year-old guard Ja Morant suffering a bone bruise in his right knee late in the fourth quarter on Saturday night in the Warriors 142-112 dismantling of their young challengers in Game 3 at home, the series took a dramatic turn. The Warriors seized a 3-1 lead after a 101-98 win on Monday in Game 4 with Morant unable to play and were looking to move on to the conference finals with one more victory.
Before the injury, the Warriors had no answers for stopping Morant. He scored 34, 47 and 34 points respectively in Games 1, 2 and 3.