The Phoenix Suns rode on Mikal Bridges’ 31 points as they beat the New Orleans Pelicans 112-97 and in the process took a 3-2 lead in the Western Conference first-round series.
“I’m ready to play tomorrow,” Bridges said after the game. “I’m energized, my teammates keep me going. I’m itching my knee right now, talking about it. I’m ready, I love being out there with my teammates. They’re my best friends, it makes it way easier.”
The Suns never trailed but also never totally pulled away until the final few minutes against the feisty Pelicans. Once again, the team from Phoenix found a way to close, improving to 50-0 this season when leading after three quarters, including 3-0 in this series.
Brandon Ingram scored 22 points and CJ McCollum added 21 for New Orleans.
“I just thought that we made some timely mistakes, starting with the turnovers,” Pelicans coach Willie Green said. “Fifteen turnovers for 23 points, that fuels their team and that fuels their transition opportunities. That is an area where we know we have to be better.”
The Suns took an 89-78 lead into the final quarter after Cameron Payne’s late 3-pointer. The Pelicans, just 36-46 during the regular season, pulled within seven points with less than two minutes left, but Cameron Johnson threw down a one-handed jam on the ensuing fast break to keep the Suns in control.
It was a superhuman performance from Mikal Bridges, who played 47 of a possible 48 minutes yet never looked tired. He made 12 of 17 shots from the field, blocked four shots, grabbed five rebounds and had two steals.
The 25-year-old, who was one of three finalists for the NBA’s Defensive Player of the Year Award, has never missed a game in his four-year NBA career, playing in 309 regular-season games and 27 more in the postseason.
“He doesn’t miss games, he guards the best players every night and then he has 31,” Chris Paul said.
Phoenix played its third straight game without All-Star guard Devin Booker, who was still out with a strained right hamstring that happened in Game 2.
Phoenix led by as many as 17 during the second quarter before settling for a 59-46 advantage. Paul had 16 points before the break while Ayton added 13.
Jonas Valanciunas said, “We have to change the way we start a game and come out with energy. If we didn’t have that struggle in the first half, it would have been a different game.
Phoenix will try to clinch the series in Game 6 on Thursday in New Orleans.