The Phoenix Suns’ Devin Booker was in middle school and starting center Deandre Ayton was 11 years old when the Suns were last in the playoffs.
As for point guard Chris Paul, he was an NBA star in those days, just like he was on Wednesday.
Paul scored 28 points, as Booker added 21 and the Suns beat the Los Angeles Clippers 109-101 to secure a spot in the post-season for the first time since the 2009-2010 season.
“We are not satisfied. We’re not settling,” second-year Suns coach Monty Williams said. “We feel like we’re just scratching the surface.”
Williams has been the architect of a remarkable turnaround in Arizona.
The Suns had a 19-63 record just two seasons ago and had languished near the bottom of the West for years.
“Our players have worked their tails off. They’ve done everything I’ve asked them to do,” Williams said. “I’m just happy for them.”
The Suns finally figured out a way to beat the Clippers, who won the first two games of the season series.
Phoenix did not trail the entire game, but needed a fourth-quarter push to turn back a Los Angeles rally.
The Suns took an 86-80 lead into the final quarter. The Clippers pulled within 93-92 midway through the fourth, but Paul scored three consecutive baskets to give Phoenix some space.
The 35-year-old Paul has continued to play excellent basketball in his 16th NBA season, shooting 10 of 15 from the field, dishing 10 assists and generally looking like a player who is a decade younger.
The 11-time All Star was serenaded with chants of “MVP [Most Valuable Player] — MVP,” from the crowd by the end of the fourth quarter.
Clippers coach Tyronn Lue said that Paul “picked his spots” and was extremely difficult to defend.
“He controls the whole game,” Lue said. “He plays at his own pace, he gets guys involved, he knows where everybody is at. That is what a true point guard does and he did it tonight.”
The addition of Paul — who came to the Suns in an off-season trade with the Oklahoma City Thunder — has been a huge boost for the franchise, giving the Suns a Hall of Fame-caliber point guard who has 109 games of playoff experience.
Paul said he was not surprised that the Suns are in this position.
“I know who I am,” Paul said. “I knew coming to this situation. I knew who Book was. I knew playing for Monty — how detail-oriented he is.”
The Suns improved to 44-18, while the Clippers fell to 43-21. The teams are currently ranked No. 2 and 3, respectively, in the Western Conference standings.
Paul George led the Clippers with 25 points and 10 rebounds, while Marcus Morris Sr added 16 points.
The Suns jumped out to a 39-31 lead after one quarter, making 7 of 9 shots from three-point range.
Phoenix pushed the lead to 14 points by midway through the second quarter, before settling for a 63-53 halftime advantage.
Frank Kaminsky led the Suns with 13 points before the break, while Booker had 12. George scored 16 for the Clippers. The Phoenix bench outscored the Clippers’ reserves 28-8 in the first half.
Also on Wednesday, it was:
‧ 76ers 127, Hawks 83
‧ Jazz 154, Kings 105
‧ Nuggets 114, Pelicans 112
‧ Wizards 116, Lakers 107
‧ Heat 116, Spurs 111
‧ Celtics 120, Hornets 111
‧ Trail Blazers 130, Grizzlies 109
‧ Knicks 113, Bulls 94
‧ Magic 109, Cavaliers 104
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