A work of art by Chris Paul

Suppressed rebellion. As it was sung a priori, The Phoenix Suns, the 64-win team, are in the second round. But it is important that a priori: the ticket has not been much of a formality. It took a tremendous effort in the sixth game (109-115) to avoid the agony of the seventh in a series in which things threatened to go awry in a very serious way. Devin Booker was injured in the second after scoring 31 points in the first half. The Suns lost home court advantage that night, and even after regaining it they had to play a tricky fifth game: on their court but still without Booker, with the danger of a possible match point against away from home and against a rising rival, who for a few days felt capable of anything: New Orleans Pelicans.

For the Pelicans it has been a season of reaffirmation, of growth. And that’s a lot. They started 1-12 and came within 14 games of 50% (18-32). With a rookie trainer, Willie Green, and amid rumors of surly divorce with Zion Williamson, who has not played the entire course. But the thing was redirected, he opted for a veteran almost-all star like CJ McCollum, injuries gave Brandon Ingram a break, Green proved to be a perfectly capable coach and a little media rookie generation proved to be highly productive, ideal to become part of a new hard core. Especially Herb Jones with his defensive tentacles, also Jose Alvarado and Trey Murphy. Is left over, Oh, the Zion affair, pending the negotiation (or not) of a multi-million dollar extension. A decision, for better or worse, that will mark a future that, at least, looks much better than a few months ago in NOLA. And that, I repeat, is a lot.

The Pelicans took two straight to the jaw after that thunderous 2-2 run. In the sixth game, in which Booker returned nine days after his dangerous injurydid not throw in the towel until the last seconds and commanded in the first half after an intense second quarter (58-48). His last advantage, in fact, came two minutes from the end: 104-103. There the 0-7 differential fell (104-110) with a sequence that was pure chloroform, first a triple by Booker and followed by a mate by Mikal Bridges after stealing McCollum. The guard He has not been at his best level (this time 16 points on 16 shots and one assist for three turnovers) in the two decisive games. Ingram finished with 21 points and 11 assists and closes the series with 27 points, 6.2 rebounds and 6.2 assists. With some of the best basketball moments of his entire career.

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I applaud the Pelicans and move on to the Western champion. It was not easy. It took nerves of steel, hierarchy and concentration. Booker’s loss was a test, the young emergence of his rival a nuisance. But there they are at the end with authority in the important moments, closing the game and the series with an iron fist in another excellent night of Mikal Bridges (18 points) and DeAndre Ayton (22 + 7 rebounds + 4 assists), with a Cameron Johnson who goes back to go further, Booker back (13 points in 32 minutes) … And with the endless teaching of Chris Paul. The point guard, who closes the series with 68 assists and 9 losses), played a perfect game to eliminate the Pelicans: 33 points, 5 rebounds, 8 assists and an incredible 14/14 from the field (and 4/4 from free throws). Never in a playoff game has he racked up so many pitches without a miss. And never had 33 points been reached with a perfect shot sheet. If you add regular season, only Wilt Chamberlain made more baskets without a single blur.

Despite the physical pressure from the Pelicans, the burden of responsibility without Booker, and the perpetual annoyance of the clingy Alvarado, PC3 He closes the series with that deep feeling of greatness that inspires his presence on the track. With another exercise in direction and finesse in the trenches, with a demonstration of hierarchy and basketball. He is one of the best point guards in history. There is no doubt, but the ring is missing. And, on his way to turning 37 in a few days, he knows that he is facing his great opportunity after falling literally two steps away last season. There goes Chris Paul, there go the Suns. Next Please.

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