HOUSTON (AP) — Chris Paul didn’t want to talk about his postseason failures, not after Houston’s win Tuesday over Utah finally got him into the Western Conference finals.
“For us it was just … they were in the way,” Paul said. “So we were just trying to get another win.”
His Rockets teammates saw it a little differently. They were eager to talk about Paul’s dominant performance, including a playoff career-high 41 points, in a 112-102 victory in Game 5 that eliminated the Jazz.
“He went out there and took over the game,” James Harden said. “(To have) an opportunity for him that he’s never had before. He went to go get it. He put us all on his back and said listen: ‘I got us.'”
Paul made eight 3-pointers and had 10 assists and seven rebounds without a turnover. He’s the first player in playoff history to have at least 40 points and 10 assists without a turnover since turnovers became an official statistic in 1977-78, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
“The performance that Chris put out there — if he didn’t make it out this time, something’s wrong,” coach Mike D’Antoni said.
It will be Houston’s second trip to the Western Conference finals in four years and the first ever for Paul. The point guard, who is in his 13th NBA season, has been panned for failing to get past the second round in his nine previous trips to the playoffs.
While he wouldn’t talk about finally getting over the second-round hump, he had no problem discussing how much he’s enjoying this season.
“It’s just fun,” he said. “It’s not about the points or anything like that. It’s about the process.”
Houston will meet the winner of the series between Golden State and New Orleans, which the Warriors lead 3-1.
Paul is a nine-time All-Star in his first season with Houston after an offseason trade from the Los Angeles Clippers. 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. The team didn’t provide an update on his condition after the game, but he was wearing a walking boot on his left foot.
“Unhappy with the results, but happy with everybody as a whole,” Mitchell said.
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.
The Jazz were without Ricky Rubio and Dante Exum because of hamstring injuries. Rubio has missed the entire series with his injury, and Exum was injured in the third quarter of Game 5.
P.J. Tucker scored a playoff career-best 19 points, and Harden added 18 points on a night he was “under the weather,” according to D’Antoni.
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 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.
Jazz: Alec Burks scored 22 points off the bench. … Rudy Gobert finished with 12 points, nine rebounds and five blocks. … Mitchell finished 9 of 17 on field goals. … O’Neale had 17 points.
Rockets: Houston made 18 3-pointers to give the team 10 or more 3-pointers in an NBA playoff-record 16 straight games. … Clint Capela finished with five blocks. … The Rockets had 10 steals on Tuesday for their fourth game in the series with 10 or more.
THEY SAID IT
Mitchell on what coach Quin Snyder’s message was to the team after the loss: “I was so upset I wasn’t listening. I’m not going to lie to you.”
WHAT A PRESENT
D’Antoni turned 67 on Tuesday and said this game was the best present he’s ever received.
“Without a doubt,” he said. “Especially at this age.”
Houston will host the first two games of the conference finals against Golden State or New Orleans.
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