NBA playoffs

Booker-less Suns take 3-2 series lead over Pelicans

Booker-less Suns take 3-2 series lead over Pelicans

HEATED. Pelicans forward Brandon Ingram tries to get Suns guard Chris Paul out of the way.

Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY Sports/Reuters

Chris Paul and Mikal Bridges conspire to lift the top-seeded Suns past the tough-fighting Pelicans

Mikal Bridges unloaded 31 points and Chris Paul added 22 points and 11 assists as the host Phoenix Suns defeated the New Orleans Pelicans, 112-97, to take a 3-2 lead in their Western Conference first-round playoff series on Tuesday night, April 26 (Wednesday, April 27, Manila time).

Deandre Ayton scored 19 points and Cameron Payne had 12 before fouling out for the top-seeded Suns, who can end the series with a victory in New Orleans on Thursday night.

Bridges made 4-of-4 three-point attempts and Payne made 2-of-3 as Phoenix hit 10-of-27 from beyond the arc compared to 5-of-25 for the Pelicans.

The Suns continued to play minus main man Devin Booker, who’s sidelined due to a right hamstring injury.

Brandon Ingram scored 22 points, CJ McCollum had 21, Jonas Valanciunas had 17 points and 14 rebounds, and Jose Alvarado scored 12 to lead eighth-seeded New Orleans.

The Suns, who had been outscored in the third quarter of each of the previous games and by an average of 11 points, played much better coming out of halftime.

Bridges made two three-pointers and Crowder made one as Phoenix extended its 13-point halftime lead to 78-60 midway through the third.

Valanciunas scored 6 points to help New Orleans get within eight before Payne’s three-pointer gave the Suns an 89-78 lead at the end of the period.

Phoenix twice built the lead to 13 points before Alvarado’s three-pointer pulled the Pelicans within seven midway through the fourth quarter.

Paul had a basket and two free throws as the Suns pushed the lead to 104-93 with 3:27 remaining. New Orleans made just one field goal in the final 5:22.

In the first quarter, the Suns scored 18 points in the paint and had 4 steals among 6 Pelicans turnovers. Payne scored 7 straight points during an 11-2 closing run that gave Phoenix a 32-20 lead at the end of the period.

The Suns increased the lead to 15 points before consecutive three-pointers by Alvarado and McCollum pulled New Orleans within nine midway through the second quarter.

The Pelicans got within nine again on a jumper by Ingram, but three-pointers by Bridges and Landry Shamet helped the Suns to a 59-46 halftime lead. –