Los Angeles (AFP) – Chris Paul scored 41 points to lead Houston into the NBA Western Conference finals on Tuesday with a series-clinching 112-102 victory over the Utah Jazz.
Paul’s haul included 20 points in the fourth quarter as the top-seeded Rockets completed a 4-1 victory in the best-of-seven series at Houston’s Toyota Center.
The Rockets will now face either the Golden State Warriors or New Orleans Pelicans for a place in the NBA Finals. The Warriors can set up their date with the Rockets with a victory over the Pelicans later Tuesday.
Paul’s game-winning display left the 33-year-old contemplating his first appearance in a Western Conference finals.
Rockets star James Harden, who was kept quiet with a relatively modest haul of 18 points, paid tribute to Paul’s performance.
“He was unbelievable,” Harden said afterwards. “He went out there and took over the game. He put us all on his back in that fourth quarter and said ‘Listen — I got this’. That’s a big-time performance.
“He had a look in his eyes. And if he has that look in his eyes, he’s a problem.”
Paul meanwhile played down his personal contribution to the win, even though his 41 points marked a career high in a playoff game.
“It’s just fun,” Paul said. “It’s not about points, it’s about the process.”
Houston however were made to work hard for their win by Utah, who were forced to play the closing stages of the game without young star Donovan Mitchell, who hobbled off injured.
Utah had inched into an 80-75 lead early in the fourth quarter before Paul and P.J. Tucker hit back-to-back three-pointers to put Houston back in front at 81-80.
Gerald Green impressed off the bench with a three-pointer before going coast to coast with a running dunk to push the score to 86-82.
Utah battled desperately to stay in touch however, even though Harden’s dunk with just over seven minutes left gave the Rockets a five-point lead at 92-87.
Eventually though it fell to Paul to break the Utah resistance, reeling off four three-pointers in a row before a brilliant pull-up jumper put Houston 107-98 ahead with just under two minutes to play.
Harden stole a defensive rebound in the final minute and Paul fed Tucker, who drained the three-pointer to help put Utah 110-100 ahead with 35 seconds left.