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Suns seek dominant 3-1 lead vs Pelicans

Apr 22, 2022; New Orleans, Louisiana, USA; Phoenix Suns guard Chris Paul (3) is defended by New Orleans Pelicans guard Jose Alvarado (15) in the second quarter of game three of the first round for the 2022 NBA playoffs at the Smoothie King Center. Mandatory Credit: Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

The Phoenix Suns have regained homecourt advantage in their series against the New Orleans Pelicans.

They can take a commanding lead in the series if they can win again Sunday night in New Orleans.

The top-seeded Suns bounced back from a series-tying loss at home in Game 2 to beat the host Pelicans 114-111 and take a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven Western Conference first-round series Friday night.

They overcame the absence of leading scorer Devin Booker, who is expected to miss at least Sunday’s game because of a hamstring injury. Deandre Ayton dominated the first half and Chris Paul dominated the fourth quarter in Game 3.

“It’s a big win for us,” Paul said. “We knew it was going to be by committee. We knew coming into this arena was going to be tough. I think everybody pitched in, and we did enough to win.”

Ayton had 21 of his 28 points and seven of his 17 rebounds to help Phoenix grab a 59-48 halftime lead.

New Orleans got within two points at the end of the third quarter but couldn’t keep up with Paul in the fourth quarter. Paul, who scored 19 points in the fourth quarter to spur the Suns’ win in Game 1, had 19 of his 28 points in the fourth quarter of Game 3. He finished with 14 assists and didn’t commit a turnover.

“I just picked my spots,” Paul said. “I finally had a couple of shots go down. I just tried to be aggressive. I listened to Deandre. He kept telling me he was going to get me loose, and he told me to just stop passing and shoot the ball. Shots went down, and we got stops at the times when we needed to.”

Phoenix had a 64-40 advantage in points in the paint and the Pelicans’ inside game suffered a blow when starting forward Jaxson Hayes was ejected with 5:13 left in second quarter for committing a flagrant 2 foul against Jae Crowder.

“We’ll be fine,” Pelicans coach Willie Green said. “(It’s a) long series. We still won at their place. They came and got one at our place. Give them credit. They played hard (and) played together. We’ll regroup, watch some tape, and come back Sunday and be ready.”

Brandon Ingram scored 34 points and CJ McCollum added 30 to lead New Orleans. However, starting center Jonas Valanciunas made just 1 of 5 shots and had 11 rebounds while backup Larry Nance Jr. made 1 of 8 shots and had four rebounds.

In the first two games, Valanciunas averaged 14 points (on 11-of-30 shooting) and 19.0 rebounds, and Nance averaged 13.5 points (on 11-of-17 shooting).

“There’s a lot of emotions that go back and forth in the wins and losses, in execution and lack of execution,” McCollum said. “You’ve got to turn the page, learn from your mistakes, figure out where you can play better, but also look at all the things we’ve done well up to this point.

“Down 1-2, with a game to play at home, I’ll take that. Obviously, we’d have liked to win, but we’ve got a chance to even up the series in front of our fans at home on Sunday.”

–Field Level Media