Phoenix Suns guard Chris Paul knows all too well that you cannot get happy on the farm just because you’re up 2-0 in a series, even if you’ve outscored the opponent by 30+ points.
His Phoenix Suns have won the first two games of the second round series against the Denver Nuggets by a combined net margin of 42 points, but he does not want them thinking the series is over.
All the way back in the 2008 playoffs, Paul’s Hornets went up 2-0 on the San Antonio Spurs with a pair or blowouts and it didn’t end up meaning anything at all.
“I’m always talking about [2007-08] when we played against the Spurs when I was in New Orleans,” Paul said postgame. “We won the first two games, beat the brakes off of them. I remember looking over there at Tim and all them, and they weren’t fazed.”
It was the 2008 Western Conference Semifinals (second round, just like now). Paul’s team was the #2 seed (just like now) and the Spurs were the #3.
The upstart Hornets enjoyed their home court advantage, winning Game 1 by 19 and Game 2 by 18. Just pants’d em. Young Chris Paul finished his 22nd year on the planet with a 2-0 lead on the Spurs but ushered in his 23rd year by losing four of the next five, including game seven at home. Happy Birthday indeed.
You might remember the 2008 Spurs. The defending league champs had just beaten the Phoenix Suns in the first round (4-1) after Tim Duncan made a three at the buzzer in Game 1 — his first three in a year — to force overtime in what was sure to be a Suns win. From there, the Shaq-led Suns crumbled. The Spurs completed the gentleman’s sweep a week later and the Suns went home to lick their wounds and question their existence.
Then, in the second round, the Spurs got clocked by a Paul-led Hornets team that was clicking on all cylinders. But they righted their ship and completed the belated gentleman’s sweep anyway, winning four of the next five to take the series. Three of those wins were at home in San Antonio.
Will the Nuggets right their own ship back home in Denver, and come back to beat the Phoenix Suns this next week?
To be sure, this Nuggets team is resilient.
In the 2020 Bubble, they overcame 3-1 deficits in both the first and second round to advance to the Conference Finals before falling to the Lakers. Oh, did I mention that 2008 Spurs team fell to the Lakers in the Conference Finals too?
The Nuggets have the best player in the league in Nikola Jokic. They have a coach who knows how to keep his team balanced, how to get them back off the mat no matter how hard they’ve been punched. Within minutes of Game 2 ending, he went public with his message.
“I saw one team that wanted to be here, that played with a purpose and urgency, and one team that did not want to be here and played with no urgency,” Nuggets head coach Michael Malone said. “And that’s why we got our ass kicked. ... We had a lot of guys play really bad tonight. And then we allowed the impact of not making the shot to affect the other end, and it was really — this was just an embarrassing performance all the way around, top to bottom.”
After running short on tactical adjustments to change the outcome in Game 2, Malone focused on his team’s effort.
“I felt we quit tonight, which is something you never want to see,” Malone continued. “So I guess for Game 3, I’m just going to try to find guys that will at least go out there and leave it all on the line. I may have a hard time coming up with five guys that fill that, but these two games, these second halves have really been disappointing, and that’s an understatement.”
The Nuggets don’t have Jamal Murray this time, nor do they have active defenders Jerami Grant or even Torrey Craig. But newly acquired Aaron Gordon is better than Grant, at least the Nuggets version of Grant (not the Pistons version). And this time they have Will Barton back, who missed all last year’s playoffs. And believe it or not, Austin Rivers is a fair approximation of what Gary Harris gave them last year, at least on the offensive end.
The Nuggets have the pieces to make it tough on the Suns. They won 47 games this year, just four less than the Suns. And they were just as dangerous without Murray than they were with him (almost identical team stats and win rate before/after his injury). They have a top-8 offense and top-11 defense.
And they’re embarrassed. They heard Suns fans chant ‘Suns in four! Suns in four!’ just as clearly as you did. They know they laid down in Phoenix. They know they sucked hard.
So the Suns cannot afford to let down their energy in Denver, who will have their own packed house of fans cheering them on.
They WILL get back up. They WILL put it all on the line.
All the Suns have done is their job. You’re supposed to win your home games. It’s not really a series until someone wins on the road.