Mikal Bridges joins roster of greats to power Phoenix Suns to Game 5 win over New Orleans Pelicans

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PHOENIX – Devin Booker missing and with the New Orleans Pelicans applying heavy pressure on Chris Paul, the Phoenix Suns got a historic effort from Mikal Bridges to regain control of their NBA playoff series in the first round with a 112-97 win in Game 5 for a 3-2 lead.

Bridges had perhaps the best offensive and defensive game of his career as he finished with 31 points on 12-of-17 shooting with four blocks and a steal. With the Suns desperate to improve on 3-point shooting, Bridges made all four attempts. Then there was his defense on the ball: The Pelicans were just 1 of 14 to shoot when Bridges and his long arms and relentless effort challenged their shots, according to the ESPN Stats & Information tracker. And he played all but 66 seconds of the game.

“We put him [Bridges] on everybody,” Suns coach Monty Williams said. “We can’t clone him, but we wish we could. And he also has the energy to score offensively.”

Bridges finished the game with two emphatic dunks, showing no signs of fatigue, a vital flow of energy for the Suns. Booker missed his third straight game with a hamstring injury, and the Pelicans came into the game looking to test Paul and his left hand.

Paul missed time earlier this season with a left thumb injury and appeared to injure a finger on the same hand in the second quarter of Sunday’s Game 4 loss. He did not score in this game after the first quarter. He taped several fingers together on Sunday, then did it again on Tuesday as the Pelicans played him hard on his right side and tried to force him to go left. They also pressured him all over the court, a tactic used throughout the series.

Williams said Paul is fully healthy but has changed his game plan to take some of the burden off the veteran playmaker. The plan was for Paul to ground the ball less to save energy and dodge the double teams the Pelicans used in force in Game 4. Paul, who has a history of hand and wrist injuries, has showed few signs that anything was bothering him as he scored. 16 of 21 points in the first half to help the Suns establish a lead.

“Seventeen, same thing,” Paul said of the Pelicans’ strategy. “I’ve been playing for a long time. That’s what most teams go to, to pick you up all over the pitch and do all these different things.”

The Pelicans may need to come up with a game plan to handle the decks in Game 6 on Thursday. He’s been a vital cog in everything the Suns have done as he took his second most shots in a game this season. The Suns also found themselves struggling with limited Cameron Payne and Jae Crowder, expanding Bridges’ role even further.

“Just playing hard is the most important thing. Just playing hard and playing for each other,” Bridges said.

Bridges played more against Pelicans star Brandon Ingram than at any other time in the series, and Ingram was just 1 of 4 to shoot with Bridges defending him. Ingram scored 22 points but missed 12 of 19 shots. Bridges also choked out CJ McCollum, who was 1 of 9 with Bridges on him. McCollum had 21 points but missed 15 of 22 shots and is shooting just 37% in the series, and Bridges is the main reason for that.

But perhaps the most impressive way to put Bridges’ performances in context was this: there have only been seven players in history to have a 30-point game with four 3-pointers and four blocks, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.

They are LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard, Kobe Bryant, Dirk Nowitzki, Vince Carter and, now, Bridges.

“Wow,” Bridges said when shown the list, “that’s crazy.”

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