PHOENIX — — Mikal Bridges was playing his 47th minute of basketball Tuesday night when he jumped into the air, threw a big two-handed jam and climbed to the rim with a little grimace for good measure.
He’s the guy who does it all for these Phoenix Suns. And, no, he’s not even close to being tired.
Bridges scored 31 points and blocked four shots in arguably the best game of this professional career, leading the Suns over the New Orleans Pelicans 112-97 to take a 3-2 lead in the Western Conference first-round series.
“I’m ready to play tomorrow,” Bridges said with a big smile at the postgame news conference. “I am full of energy, my teammates keep me going. I’m itching my knee right now, talking about it. I’m ready, I love being out there with my teammates. They are my best friends, it makes it so much easier.”
Chris Paul added 22 points and 11 assists, rebounding from a lackluster performance in Game 4. Deandre Ayton added 19 points and nine rebounds.
The Suns were never far behind, but they also didn’t completely walk away until the final minutes against the Pelicans. Once again, Phoenix found a way to close out, improving to 50-0 this season by leading after three quarters, including 3-0 in this series.
Bridges closed out the Suns’ scoring with two emphatic dunks in the final minute.
Brandon Ingram scored 22 points and CJ McCollum added 21 for New Orleans, which was plagued by a slow start and 15 turnovers.
“I just thought we made some timely mistakes, starting with the turnovers,” Pelicans coach Willie Green said. “Fifteen turnovers for 23 points, that feeds his team and that feeds his transition opportunities. That’s an area where we know we have to be better.”
The Suns took an 89-78 lead in the fourth quarter after a late 3-pointer by Cameron Payne. The Pelicans, just 36-46 during the regular season, closed within seven points with less than two minutes left, but Cameron Johnson threw a one-handed jam on the ensuing fast break to keep the Suns in control.
Phoenix will try to clinch the series in Game 6 on Thursday in New Orleans. If the first five games are any indication, it won’t be easy.
It was an ironman performance for Bridges, who played 47 of a possible 48 minutes but 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 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’s 31,” Paul said.
Phoenix played its third straight game without All-Star guard Devin Booker, who was still out with a right hamstring strain that occurred in Game 2.
Phoenix led by as many as 17 during the second quarter before settling for a 59-46 lead. Paul had 16 points before the break while Ayton added 13. Ingram had 13 for the Pelicans.
“We have to change the way we start a game and come out with energy,” Pelicans center Jonas Valanciunas said. “If we hadn’t had that fight in the first half, it would have been a different game.
Paul was irritated after the game by a technical foul he received in the fourth quarter. He came at a crucial moment: the Suns led just 100-92 with 4:39 left.
The point guard received the technique after being called for an eight-second violation. Paul claimed that all he said was “Let’s go” at the scorer’s table because he expected a review.
“It’s out of control, that’s ridiculous,” Paul said. “It is what it is. We try not to have fourth-quarter coaches on our team. That’s a big deal.
Speaking of discontent with officials, Suns coach Monty Williams was fined $15,000 for publicly criticizing officiating in Game 4 of the first-round playoff series against the New Orleans Pelicans, the NBA announced before the game. The Pelicans had a 42-15 free throw lead during Game 4, which the Suns lost.
Pelicans: Jose Alvarado was once again tough on defense, forcing the eight-second penalty in the fourth quarter against Paul, resulting in a turnover and technical foul on Paul. … New Orleans shot just 5-for-25 (20%) from 3-point range.
Suns: Booker has been working out at the team’s practice facility, but it’s not yet clear when he’ll be able to return. … Payne gave the Suns a boost with seven points in the first quarter. He averaged just 4.8 points in the first four games of the series. … Phoenix shot just 1-for-9 from 3-point range before closing out the first half on 4-for-6.