Mikal Bridges leads Suns to defeat Pelicans

PHOENIX — Mikal Bridges was playing his 47th minute of basketball Tuesday night when he jumped in the air, pulled off a huge two-handed jam and pulled himself up on the edge with a small grin.

He’s the jack of all trades for these Phoenix Suns. And no, he’s not even remotely tired.

Bridges scored 31 points and blocked four shots in what was arguably the best game of his pro career and led the Suns 112-97 over the New Orleans Pelicans to take a 3-2 lead in the Western Conference first-round series.

“I’m ready to play tomorrow,” Bridges said with a big grin at the post-game press conference. “I’m full of energy, my teammates keep me going. I’m itching my knee talking about this right now. I’m ready, I love being out there with my teammates. They’re my best friends, that makes it a lot easier.”

Chris Paul added 22 points and 11 assists, recovering from an underperformance in Game 4. Deandre Ayton added 19 points and nine rebounds.

The Suns were never behind, but neither did they fully retreat until the final minutes against the lively Pelicans. Once again, Phoenix found a way to finish, improving to 50-0 this season as he led after three quarters, including 3-0 in that series.

Mikal Bridges, who scored 31 points, goes on a shot in the Suns' 112-97 Game 5 win over the Pelicans.
Mikal Bridges, who scored 31 points, goes on a shot in the Suns’ 112-97 Game 5 win over the Pelicans.

Bridges ended the Suns’ goal with two forceful dunks in the last minute.

Brandon Ingram scored 22 points and CJ McCollum added 21 for New Orleans, who was injured from a slow start and 15 turnovers.

“I just thought we made some timely mistakes, starting with the turnovers,” said Pelicans coach Willie Green. “Fifteen changes for 23 points, that drives your team and that boosts your transition opportunities. It’s an area where we know we have to get better.”

The Suns took a 89-78 lead after Cameron Payne’s late 3-pointer. The Pelicans — just 36-46 in the regular season — were within seven points with less than two minutes left, but Cameron Johnson threw down a one-handed jam on the ensuing quick break to keep the Suns in check.

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Phoenix will look to win the series in Thursday’s Game 6 in New Orleans. If the first five games are any indication, it’s not going to be easy.

It was an Ironman performance for Bridges, who played 47 minutes out of a possible 48 and never looked tired. He made 12 of 17 shots from the field, blocked four shots, grabbed five rebounds and had two steals.

The lanky 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,” 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 much as 17 points in the second quarter before settling for a 59-46 advantage. Paul had 16 points before the break while Ayton added 13. Ingram had 13 for the Pelicans.

“We need to change the way we start a game and come out with energy,” said Pelicans center Jonas Valanciunas. “If we hadn’t had that fight in the first half it would have been a different game.

Paul was annoyed after the game by a technical foul he received in the fourth quarter. It came at a crucial time: the Suns led only 100-92 with 4:39 to go.

The point guard got the technical after being called out for an eight-second injury. Paul claimed that he only said “come on” at the scorer’s table because he was hoping for a review.

“It’s out of control, that’s ridiculous,” Paul said. “It is what it is. We’re trying not to bring fourth quarter techs into our team. That’s a big deal.” Mikal Bridges leads Suns to defeat Pelicans


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