Paul scores 41, finally reaches conference finals as Rockets beat Jazz
HOUSTON (AP) — Chris Paul scored a playoff career-high 41 points with eight 3-pointers to finally reach the conference finals, helping the Houston Rockets eliminate the Utah Jazz 112-102 in Game 5 on Tuesday night.
It will be Houston’s second trip to the Western Conference finals in four years and the first ever for Paul. The point guard has been panned for failing to get past the second round in his nine previous trips to the postseason.
Houston will meet the winner of the series between Golden State and New Orleans, which the Warriors lead 3-1.
Paul, a nine-time All-Star in his first season with Houston after an offseason trade from the Los Angeles Clippers, also had 10 assists and seven rebounds. His previous career-best in the playoffs was 35 points, which he accomplished three times.
Star rookie Donovan Mitchell had 22 of his 24 points for Utah in the third quarter before leaving with about seven minutes left with an apparent left leg injury.
Houston returns to the conference finals for the first time since 2015. It’s the second straight season the Jazz lost in this round after being swept by Golden State last season.
The top-seeded Rockets led by eight points after a 3-pointer by Paul with about six minutes left. The Jazz scored the next seven points, highlighted by a 3-pointer from Royce O’Neale, before Paul made eight quick points to push Houston’s lead to 105-96 with about three minutes left.
Joe Ingles made a basket for Utah before Paul added another basket to make it 107-98. The crowd began chanting “CP3” repeatedly as Paul dribbled down the court on the next possession.
Mitchell’s huge third quarter left the Jazz up by 3 to begin the fourth. Derrick Favors made a layup for Utah to start the final quarter before Paul and P.J. Tucker hit consecutive 3-pointers to put Houston back on top 81-80 with about 10 minutes left.
Utah regained the lead on a basket by O’Neale before Houston used an 11-5 spurt, with the first five points from Gerald Green, to take a 92-87 lead with about seven minutes left. Harden capped the run with a dunk after stealing the ball from Mitchell. Mitchell was injured on that play and grabbed his left leg. He had to be helped to the bench and was quickly taken to the locker room with the help of two people.
Rockets: Houston made 18 3-pointers to give the team 10 or more 3-pointers in an NBA playoff-record 16 straight games. … Coach Mike D’Antoni turned 67 on Tuesday. … Clint Capela finished with five blocks.
Houston will host the first two games of the conference finals against Golden State or New Orleans.