Chris Paul carries Rockets past Jazz in Game 5 win to reach his first-ever conference finals

Chris Paul never has to hear it again. He made damn sure of that.

For everything he’s accomplished in the NBA — the All-Star nods, the All-NBA selections, the countless dimes delivered and defenders put on skates — he’d never in his 13-year professional career made it out of the second round of the postseason, with injuries and late-game meltdowns and cruel acts of the basketball gods all combining to keep one of the best point guards of his generation from playing past mid-May and give his critics all the ammunition they’d need to question his bona fides. Well, there goes that.

Paul scored 20 of his career-playoff-high 41 points in a peerless fourth quarter to carry the Rockets past the finish line for a 112-102 win and eliminate the incredibly tough Utah Jazz in five games. The Rockets will advance to the Western Conference finals to take on the winner of the West’s other semifinal series between the Golden State Warriors and New Orleans Pelicans, and will host Game 1 of the conference finals at Toyota Center.

On a night where All-Star running buddy James Harden didn’t have it going — just 18 points on 7-for-22 shooting in 35 minutes for the likely 2017-18 NBA Most Valuable Player — Paul took over. He drilled 13 of his 22 field-goal attempts — including eight straight 3-pointers, capped by a dagger-ish banker to put Houston up nine with 2:30 to go — and distributed 10 assists, hauled in seven rebounds and snagged a steal while logging a team-high 38 minutes without a single turnover. He was breathtaking, to a historic degree …

… and now, he’s got a particularly persistent black mark off his Hall of Fame résumé.

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NBA playoffs: The best photos from Round 2
OAKLAND, CA - MAY 01: Stephen Curry #30 of the Golden State Warriors reacts after making a three-point basket against the New Orleans Pelicans during Game Two of the Western Conference Semifinals during the 2018 NBA Playoffs at ORACLE Arena on May 1, 2018 in Oakland, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
TORONTO, ON - MAY 01: LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers shoots the ball as Jonas Valanciunas #17 of the Toronto Raptors defends in the second half of Game One of the Eastern Conference Semifinals during the 2018 NBA Playoffs at Air Canada Centre on May 1, 2018 in Toronto, Canada. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - APRIL 30: Terry Rozier #12 of the Boston Celtics takes a shot against Joel Embiid #21 of the Philadelphia 76ers during Game One in Round Two of the 2018 NBA Playoffs at TD Garden on April 30, 2018 in Boston, Massachusetts. The Celtics defeat the 76ers 117-101. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - APRIL 30: Terry Rozier #12 of the Boston Celtics celebrates after hitting a three point shot against the Philadelphia 76ers during the first quarter of Game One of Round Two of the 2018 NBA Playoffs at TD Garden on April 30, 2018 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
TORONTO, ON- MAY 3 - Toronto Raptors guard DeMar DeRozan (10) dunks as the Toronto Raptors play the Cleveland Cavaliers in the second round of the NBA playoffs at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto. May 3, 2018. (Steve Russell/Toronto Star via Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - MAY 3: Jayson Tatum #0 of the Boston Celtics goes to the basket against the Philadelphia 76ers during Game Two of the Eastern Conference Semifinals of the 2018 NBA Playoffs on May 3, 2018 at the TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2018 NBAE (Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images)
SALT LAKE CITY, UT - MAY 06: Donovan Mitchell #45 of the Utah Jazz goes to the basket under the defense of James Harden #13 of the Houston Rockets in the second half during Game Four of Round Two of the 2018 NBA Playoffs at Vivint Smart Home Arena on May 6, 2018 in Salt Lake City, Utah. The Rockets beat the Jazz 100-87. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Gene Sweeney Jr./Getty Images)
CLEVELAND, OH - MAY 05: LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers hits the game winning shot over the outstretched hand of OG Anunoby #3 of the Toronto Raptors to win Game Three of the Eastern Conference Semifinals 105-103 during the 2018 NBA Playoffs at Quicken Loans Arena on May 5, 2018 in Cleveland, Ohio. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
PHILADELPHIA, PA - MAY 7: Joel Embiid #21 of the Philadelphia 76ers gets into an altercation with Terry Rozier #12 of the Boston Celtics as Jayson Tatum #0 and Marcus Morris #13 of the Boston Celtics and Ben Simmons #25 of the Philadelphia 76ers try to break them up in the second quarter during Game Four of the Eastern Conference Second Round of the 2018 NBA Playoffs at Wells Fargo Center on May 7, 2018 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
CLEVELAND, OH - MAY 05: LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers celebrates his game winning shot with Kevin Love #0 next to Serge Ibaka #9 of the Toronto Raptors during Game Three of the Eastern Conference Semifinals during the 2018 NBA Playoffs at Quicken Loans Arena on May 5, 2018 in Cleveland, Ohio. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
May 7, 2018; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia 76ers guard Ben Simmons (25) and Boston Celtics guard Marcus Smart (36) drive for a loose ball during the second quarter in game four of the second round of the 2018 NBA Playoffs at Wells Fargo Center. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
May 5, 2018; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James (23) stands on the scorer's table after hitting the final shot to win the game against the Toronto Raptors in game three of the second round of the 2018 NBA Playoffs at Quicken Loans Arena. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
OAKLAND, CA - MAY 08: Anthony Davis #23 of the New Orleans Pelicans goes up for a dunk on Quinn Cook #4, Kevon Looney #5, and Kevin Durant #35 of the Golden State Warriors during Game Five of the Western Conference Semifinals of the 2018 NBA Playoffs at ORACLE Arena on May 8, 2018 in Oakland, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - MAY 9: Terry Rozier #12 of the Boston Celtics takes a shot over T.J. McConnell #12 of the Philadelphia 76ers during Game Five of the Eastern Conference Second Round of the 2018 NBA Playoffs at TD Garden on May 9, 2018 in Boston, Massachusetts. The Celtics defeat the 76ers 114-112 to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
May 9, 2018; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Celtics guard Jaylen Brown (7) reacts after scoring against the Philadelphia 76ers during the second half in game five of the second round of the 2018 NBA Playoffs at the TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
May 8, 2018; Oakland, CA, USA; New Orleans Pelicans guard Jrue Holiday (11) passes the basketball against Golden State Warriors forward David West (3) and guard Shaun Livingston (34) during the first quarter in game five of the second round of the 2018 NBA Playoffs at Oracle Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
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Rockets forward P.J. Tucker was excellent when called upon, helping settle Houston’s defense and making timely shots on the other end. He scored a career-postseason-high 19 points on 7-for-9 shooting, including a 5-for-7 mark from behind the 3-point line, to go with six rebounds, three blocks and two assists in 36 minutes, some of which were spent playing as an extreme-small-ball center when Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni chose to downsize and play five-out to try to overwhelm the Jazz at the start of the fourth quarter.

The Jazz entered Tuesday down two of their top guards, with starting point man Ricky Rubio still sidelined by a hamstring injury and key defensive reserve Dante Exum joining him with one of his own. Still, Quin Snyder’s club battled, coming back from an 11-point third-quarter deficit to take a lead entering the fourth behind a remarkable surge from rookie sensation Donovan Mitchell … only to watch him, too, go down hard after being stripped by Harden on a drive that led to a Rockets layup:

The Rookie of the Year hopeful, who had scored 22 points in a remarkable third quarter to give Utah a lead entering the fourth quarter, needed to be helped off the court and back to the locker room by Jazz personnel.

Mitchell would eventually return to the sideline, but do so with his left shoe and sock off. He would not return to the game, forced to watch the final seven-plus minutes of Utah’s season tick away from the sideline. He finished a tremendous campaign in which he announced himself as a star on the rise with a team-high 24 points on 9-for-17 shooting, nine assists, four rebounds and a steal in 34 minutes; after the game, the Jazz announced that he’d been diagnosed with “left foot soreness,” that X-rays on the injured foot came back negative, and that he’d receive further testing when the team returned to Salt Lake City.

Even without their top gun, the Jazz just kept coming, cutting the deficit to one point on a 3 by guard Royce O’Neale (17 points on 6-for-10 shooting) with 4:34 to go. But Paul was just too much down the stretch, scoring or assisting on all 15 Rockets points over the final 4:09 to put the game away, and punch his ticket to the conference finals for the first time in his career.

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Dan Devine is a writer and editor for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at devine@oath.com or follow him on Twitter!

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