Chris Paul is an 11-time All-Star who had one big hole in a Hall of Fame resume.
The 16-year veteran changed that narrative Wednesday night when he sealed his first trip to the NBA Finals.
Paul scored 31 of his 41 points in the second half to help the Phoenix Suns notch a 130-103 victory over the host Los Angeles Clippers, wrapping up the Western Conference finals in six games.
The result sends the Suns to the NBA Finals for the first time in 28 years.
Paul’s first trip to the Finals comes in his first season with his fifth team, an organization that spent the entire past decade watching the postseason.
The new team proved to be the right fit for the 36-year-old guard.
“From Day One, they welcomed me with open arms,” Paul said. “We still got a lot of work to do, but we’re going to enjoy this — 16 years, surgeries, hard work, losses, bad losses, but we’re going to enjoy tonight.”
Paul shot 7 of 8 from 3-point range and 16 of 24 overall while helping slay his former organization. He also had eight assists and three steals.
When the Clippers pulled within seven points late in the third quarter, Paul took over and personally delivered the knockout punch to the Los Angeles season.
“He’s just a great player, a great leader and he serves his teammates,” Suns coach Monty Williams said. “We saw that tonight. He was dead tired and he was still able to make play after play after play. That’s his will. I’m just happy to watch him in this moment.”
Devin Booker scored 22 points, Jae Crowder added 19 points and Deandre Ayton had 16 points and 17 rebounds for the second-seeded Suns.
Marcus Morris Sr. registered 26 points and nine rebounds, and Paul George added 21 points for the fourth-seeded Clippers. Patrick Beverley was ejected with 5:49 remaining when he came up behind Paul and shoved him to the court.
“I’m proud of what we did as a team,” said George, who topped 20 points in every game in the series. “I wasn’t out to prove anything to anybody, just to be a leader for this team.”
Clippers star Kawhi Leonard (knee) missed his eighth straight game and teammate Ivica Zubac (knee) sat out his second in a row.
Cameron Johnson (non-COVID illness) was sidelined for Phoenix, which made 17 of 31 3-point attempts (54.8 percent) and shot 56.4 percent overall.
Phoenix will face either the Atlanta Hawks or the Milwaukee Bucks in the NBA Finals. Those teams are tied 2-2 in the Eastern Conference finals.
The Suns previously reached the Finals twice, falling to the Boston Celtics in 1976 and to the Chicago Bulls in 1993. Both series went six games.
Phoenix hadn’t even played in a playoff game since 2010 prior to this season’s run, which has included series victories against the Los Angeles Lakers, Denver Nuggets and the Clippers.
Los Angeles was trying to reach the NBA Finals for the first time.
“I thought we ran out of gas,” Clippers coach Tyronn Lue said. “We made a lot of mistakes mentally. That tells you guys are tired.”
Los Angeles trailed by six early in the third quarter before Phoenix scored 21 of the next 31 points to take an 89-72 lead on Mikal Bridges’ fast-break basket with 4:01 left in the period.
The Clippers responded with 10 straight points, capped by 3-pointers from Morris and Nicolas Batum, to move within seven with 1:43 remaining.
Paul followed by scoring eight straight points to get the Suns’ lead to 15 before Phoenix took a 97-83 lead into the final stanza.
Paul continued his torrid play with three straight baskets early in the fourth — he scored 19 in the stanza — to push the Phoenix advantage to 105-85 with 9:39 to play. When the Clippers crept within 15, Paul converted a four-point play to make it 111-92 with 7:42 left.
Ayton followed with a driving shot before Paul added a basket and a straightaway 3-pointer to make it a 26-point margin with 5:49 left. Paul then hit the technical stemming from Beverley’s ejection to make it 119-92, and Phoenix closed out the convincing victory.
Reggie Jackson scored 13 points, DeMarcus Cousins added 12 and Beverley scored 11 for Los Angeles, which shot 41.8 percent from the field and made 12 of 39 (30.8 percent) from behind the arc.