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Suns rout Clippers in Game 6 to reach NBA Finals on Chris Paul’s huge closeout performance

Suns rout Clippers in Game 6 to reach NBA Finals on Chris Paul's huge closeout performance

LOS ANGELES — After cementing a 130-103 win over the Los Angeles Clippers in Game 6 of the Western Conference finals on Wednesday at Staples Center, the Phoenix Suns have advanced to their first NBA Finals since 1993.

After last appearing in the playoffs in 2010, the Suns have emerged as a championship contender for a few reasons.

Suns guard Chris Paul had 41 points on 16-of-24 shooting and eight assists in his fourth game after spending eight days in the NBA’s health and safety protocols. The Suns held a 97-83 lead entering the fourth quarter after Paul scored eight unanswered points to counter the Clippers’ previous 10-0 run. He then scored six quick points to prompt the Clippers to call a timeout while trailing 105-85 with 9:39 left.

This kind of game explains why the Suns acquired Paul from the Oklahoma City Thunder. At 36, Paul matched the Suns’ hopes that he could stay healthy, remain productive and mentor the team’s young roster.

One of those players is Suns guard Devin Booker, who had 22 points, six rebounds and four assists. After selecting Booker at No. 13 in the 2016 draft, the Suns have seen Booker dispel the notion that he simply produced empty stats on a bad team. Booker finished with a triple-double in Game 1 and has played through a battered nose both with and without a mask after needing stitches to treat it in Game 2. The Suns believe Booker still remains underappreciated considering he only made the NBA All-Star Game after Commissioner Adam Silver named him as a replacement for injured Zion Williamson.

Another one of those young players is center Deandre Ayton, who had 16 points and 17 rebounds. After selecting Ayton at No. 1 in the 2018 draft, the Suns have praised Ayton for his improvement with his consistency, aggressiveness and preparation. The Suns also have a handful of dependable role players that rose to the occasion as well in Game 6, including Jae Crowder (19 points), Mikel Bridges (nine) and Cameron Payne (seven).

Chris Paul is headed to the NBA Finals for the first time in his 16-year career.

The Clippers struggled while playing without Kawhi Leonard for the eighth consecutive game because of a right knee injury. Marcus Morris Sr. (26 points), Paul George (21), Reggie Jackson (13), DeMarcus Cousins (12) and Patrick Beverley (11) all finished in double figures. But the Clippers hardly could match the Suns’ depth.

Leonard has stayed in Los Angeles to rehab his knee during the Clippers’ road playoff games. But he watched Game 6 on the Clippers bench after watching the previous home games this series in a suite with his family. The Clippers have praised Leonard for staying connected with coaches and teammates privately.

Leonard is expected to opt out of his $36 million player option this summer, but he is expected to sign a longer deal with the Clippers.

The NBA Finals schedule is not finalized since the Milwaukee Bucks and Atlanta Hawks will play Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals on Friday with the series tied at 2-2. But the NBA Finals could start as early as July 6 and as late as July 8, giving the Suns plenty of time to rest and prepare for their next series. The Suns also had a week between sweeping the Denver Nuggets in the West semifinals and facing the Clippers.

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Chris Paul, Suns reach NBA Finals with Game 6 rout of Clippers

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