Friday's NBA playoffs: Booker-less Suns top Pelicans for 2-1 series lead
New Orleans — Chris Paul came through in a big way when the New Orleans Pelicans needed him most.
Paul scored 19 of his 28 points in the fourth quarter and the Suns overcame Devin Booker’s absence to beat the New Orleans Pelicans 114-111 on Friday night in Game 3 of the first-round series.
Deandre Ayton added 28 points and 17 rebounds to help the top-seeded Suns take a 2-1 series lead. Paul scored 15 of Phoenix’s first 23 points of the final quarter. He also had 14 assists.
“He’s just one of those players that plays the right way,” Suns coach Monty Williams said. “He understands the ‘when’ and ‘how’ to create for himself and others. The leadership qualities that you guys don’t see in the timeouts is just as impressive as what he does on the floor.”
In the first three quarters, Paul fulfilled his characteristic role as a facilitator. He had 12 assists, and he had taken just eight shots, making only three.
After New Orleans took its final lead, 93-92, with 5:37 left on Jose Alvarado’s spinning layup, Paul connected on three consecutive mid-range jumpers – from 14, 12 and 15 feet – as Phoenix took control, 98-93. Paul hit another lane jumper and made four free throws in the final 1:32 to ice the game.
“It’s a big win for us,” Paul said, citing Booker’s absence. “We knew it was going to be by committee. When you come into this arena, we knew it would be tough, but everybody just pitched in tonight.”
JaVale McGee, whose 7-of-8 shooting was facilitated by Paul’s passing mastery, said he continues to be amazed by the 36-year-old point guard.
“It’s amazing just seeing the concentration, the focus and just the brains he has and the vision he has,” McGee said. “He reads a play, and the defense will switch, and he’s always analyzing. He’s listening to calls that other players are calling.”
Booker strained his right hamstring Tuesday night after scoring 31 first-half points in a 125-114 home loss. He sat on the bench during Game 3.
Mikal Bridges had 17 points for the Suns. Backup center center JaVale McGee scored 15 points on 7-of-8 shooting as the Suns hurt the Pelicans inside.
Brandon Ingram led New Orleans with 34 points. CJ McCollum had 30.
“They attacked the open areas and got good looks, especially for Ayton,” Ingram said. “In the beginning of the game, CP did a good job getting to his spots.”
Game 4 is Sunday night in New Orleans.
“It’s a long series,” New Orleans coach Willie Green said. “We’ve just got to continue to stay with it; continue to wear them down. We can’t turn the ball over. We have to make sure we get back in transition.”
► Milwaukee 111, (at) Chicago 81: Grayson Allen made five 3-pointers and scored 22 points and Milwaukee dominated Chicago to take a 2-1 series lead without the injured Khris Middleton.
Giannis Antetokounmpo added 18 points, Bobby Portis had 18 points and 16 rebounds and the defending champion Bucks made it look easy coming off two shaky performances at home.
Middleton is expected to miss the rest of the series after spraining his left knee in Wednesday night in a loss. Game 4 is Sunday in Chicago.
Antetokounmpo scored all but two of his points after the first quarter. The two-time MVP finished with nine assists and seven rebounds.
Nikola Vucevic led Chicago with 19 points.
► (At) Atlanta 111, Miami 110: Trae Young hit a floater in the lane with 4.4 seconds left and the Atlanta Hawks overcame a 16-point deficit in the second half to beat top-seeded Miami 111-110 on Friday night, cutting the Heat’s series lead to 2-1.
Jimmy Butler missed a jumper with 12.6 second left that could’ve given the Heat a three-point cushion. He missed again on an off-balance 3 at the buzzer with De’Andre Hunter in his face to give the Hawks a burst of hope in the best-of-seven series. Game 4 is Sunday night in Atlanta.
P.J. Tucker led a 21-0 run in the third quarter that pushed the Heat to an 84-68 lead and seemingly on cruise control to a 3-0 lead. But Young and the Hawks would not let them get away.
The Heat also were dealing with an injury to point guard Kyle Lowry, who went out in the third quarter with a hamstring problem and did not return. He’ll undergo tests Saturday to determine the severity of the injury.
Young finished with 24 points despite another stout defensive effort by the Heat. Bogdan Bogdanovic added 18, Hunter 17 and three others scored in double figures to take some of the pressure off the star guard.
Coming off a 45-point effort in Game 3, Butler was held to 20 in this one and missed a golden chance to give Miami a stranglehold on the series. Tyler Herro led the Heat with 24 points, and Max Strus also had 20.
The start was delayed about 45 minutes after a suspicious package was found outside State Farm Arena before the game.