PHOENIX (AP) — Chris Paul was struggling through the first half and — frankly — looking a little old and creaky.
The moment was fleeting.
The 36-year-old Paul responded with a vintage performance in the second half, finishing with 14 points and 18 assists as the Phoenix Suns rallied for a 112-100 victory over the New Orleans Pelicans on Tuesday night.
“It’s pretty cool to watch greatness,” Suns coach Monty Williams said.
Paul is now third in NBA history with 10,346 career assists, passing both Mark Jackson and Steve Nash. The point guard scored all of his points in the second half and dished 10 assists to help the Suns steamroll the Pelicans down the stretch.
“I’m just inspired by it honestly,” Suns guard Devin Booker said. “Been a fan for a really long time. It’s really fun to see, it’s really fun to be a part of it. A long time from now, I’ll be able to say I got to play with Chris Paul.”
The Suns improved to 3-3 this season. The Pelicans fell to 1-7.
Mikal Bridges led the Suns with 22 points. Little-used reserve Frank Kaminsky added 17 points and four steals, and JaVale McGee had 18 points and five rebounds. The two big men were particularly good as the Suns regained control of the game in the second half.
The Pelicans led by as many as 20 points in the first half, but that advantage was cut to 65-62 by midway through the third quarter. New Orleans took an 82-76 lead into the final quarter. Then it was Paul’s turn to take over — he was 5 of 5 shooting from the field in the fourth and 2 of 2 on free throws.
“We made a lot of mistakes, especially in that second half to a team you can’t make mistakes to,” Pelicans guard Josh Hart said. “Being young is not an excuse. We weren’t dialed in the second half defensively to focus on getting stops and playing our game.
“When that happens, we blow a 20 point lead and lose.”
The Pelicans took a 36-22 lead in the first quarter after making 6 of 10 3-pointers and forcing eight Suns turnovers. New Orleans had a 59-48 lead at halftime.
It was a brutal start for the Suns’ All-Star backcourt of Paul and Devin Booker, who combined for eight turnovers in the first half. The home team even heard scattered boos from fans in the second quarter before the cheers came in the second half.
Jonas Valanciunas led the Pelicans with 16 points and eight rebounds before the break. He finished with a team-high 23 points.
Paul earned the No. 3 spot in assists late in the first half, finding Jae Crowder for a wide open 3-pointer. If Paul continues to move up the list, it’ll take a while. Jason Kidd is No. 2 with 12,091 assists ,while John Stockton is No. 1 with 15,806.
“It means a lot,” Paul said. “I’m grateful and I thank God for this opportunity. Not just to be on this team or still in the league, but just to be playing. I don’t take that for granted.”
Paul also climbed into the 45th place for all-time points with 20,056. He passed former Suns star Tom Chambers.
Suns forward Deandre Ayton (right leg contusion) and Pelicans forward Brandon Ingram (right hip contusion) missed Tuesday’s game, leaving a large hole in each team’s starting lineup.
Ayton’s averaging 13.8 points and 11.4 rebounds per game. Ingram leads the Pelicans with 25 points per game, providing a big chunk of the scoring since star forward Zion Williamson hasn’t played this season.
McGee started for the Suns in place of Ayton. Hart got the start for the Pelicans.
Pelicans first-year coach Willie Green returned to Phoenix for the first time since he was hired away from the Suns.
Green was the lead assistant under Suns coach Monty Williams for two years before getting the job in New Orleans. Williams often said Green was instrumental in helping Phoenix build a roster that went to the NBA Finals last season.
Williams and Suns guard Chris Paul sent messages to Green after his first win as a head coach last week. Green said Phoenix will always be a special place for him.
“It’s surreal being back,” Green said. “Really good memories here.”
Pelicans: F Herbert Jones didn’t return after taking an inadvertent elbow to the eye from teammate Valanciunas.
Suns: G Cam Payne (hamstring) didn’t play.
Pelicans: At Kings on Wednesday.
Suns: Host the Rockets on Thursday.
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