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You get what you pay for, Phoenix coach Monty Williams might say.
After getting fined $15,000 early Tuesday for criticizing a significant free throw disparity in a loss at New Orleans on Sunday, Williams’ team dominated the Pelicans and enjoyed more equal opportunities at the free throw line for a 112-97 victory at the Footprint Center in Phoenix Tuesday night.
The top-seeded Suns took a 3-2 lead in the best-of-seven first round of the NBA Playoffs. Game 6 will be Thursday night at the Smoothie King Center in New Orleans.
In the end, and at the beginning and through the middle, Phoenix didn’t even need all the free throws. The Suns never trailed and led by as many as 17 before taking a 59-46 lead into halftime, and the Pelicans never got closer than seven points the rest of the way.
The Suns hit 16 of 20 free throws to 28 of 35 by the Pelicans, but that was in stark contrast to Sunday night when New Orleans hit 32 of 42 free throws to 10 of 15 by Phoenix.
“You can slice it any way you want to. In a playoff game that physical, that’s amazing. And it’s not like we don’t attack the basket. That’s really hard to do,” Williams said on Sunday.
“I don’t want to give up that kind of money,” Williams said on Tuesday before the game. “But money has never been my driving force as it relates to our team. I care about the group we have, and when you care, you sacrifice things.”
The Pelicans got within 10 points for the first time since the second quarter on a jumper by Larry Nance Jr. with 36.1 seconds to go in the third period at 86-78. But Cameron Payne nailed a three-pointer seconds later to put the Suns back up by double digits at 11 points entering the fourth quarter.
New Orleans cut the Suns’ lead to 99-92 with 5:23 to play on a Jose Alvarado three-pointer, but the Pelicans could not get closer.
New Orleans also could never solve Mikal Bridges, who scored his playoff high 31 points with 4-of-4 shooting from 3-point range.
“We’re not finished,” Bridges said. “We’ve got to get another one. They were playing harder than us. We came out and played harder.”
Chris Paul added 22 points with 11 assists and six rebounds for Phoenix. Deandre Ayton scored 19 with nine rebounds.
Brandon Ingram led New Orleans with 22 points, but jammed his little finger late in the game. CJ McCollum added 21 points, and Jonas Valanciunas scored 17 with 14 rebounds.