The Western Conference Semifinals shifted locations on Friday night as the Phoenix Suns made the 602-mile flight to play the Denver Nuggets. Ball Arena was at capacity — 91% capacity — to cheer for their beloved team and newly minted MVP Nikola Jokic following his pregame trophy presentation.
The celebration wouldn’t last long for the Denver faithful.
Phoenix came out firing once again and downed the Nuggets 116-102 to take a commanding 3-0 series lead, led by the efforts of their 16-year point guard Chris Paul. The Suns have a chance to break out the brooms on Sunday after another dominating victory over the Nuggets.
Following a short speech by Jokic and a long wait while we all waited for the Hawks vs. 76ers game to end, the game began.
Devin Booker, who has relished playing in front of opposing fans thus far in his inaugural playoff appearance, scored 7 of the Suns first 11 points. He did so in a variety of different ways; a 12-foot spin around jumper, two free throws, a left-elbow three-pointer.
It appeared that Suns’ fans traveled well to the game as they were making their presence known as Phoenix took an early 13-point lead, 21-8.
Following Book’s second bucket pic.twitter.com/HLsJ5xsBgE— Cody Cunningham (@Cody_Cunningham) June 12, 2021
The Suns were using their high screens to create mismatches and Michael Porter, Jr. was the target. MPJ is a young defender who is still learning where to be relative to spacing on the floor. Trying to defend the elite pick-and-roll offense the Suns deploy puts him in tough situations. Bridges and Booker both sought opportunities to take it at the third-year forward any chance they could.
It was another impressive first quarter starter for the Suns. They shot 71.4% from the field, had 10 assists on 15 made shots, and went 5-of-8 from beyond the arc. Booker led all scorers with 11 points on 4-of-6 shooting. The Joker was on a triple-double watch early, posting 7 points, 6 rebounds, and 4 assists in the first quarter. Suns up 10 after one, 37-27.
Monte Morris and Will Barton looked much better than they did in Phoenix as they combined for 19 first half points. Both desperately needed the boost provided by the home crowd. They led an 11-3 run in the second quarter that cut the lead to 4.
Phoenix returned their starting unit into the game halfway through the second and went on a quick 9-0 run, including this nice little schooling of MPJ.
Denver was riding the emotion of the crowd behind them as they battled back in the latter stages of the second quarter. Jokic, after going to the ground after a mild left ankle tweak, began to regain his footing. He was much more aggressive on offense and the shooters around him began knocking down their shots.
Chris Paul used his veteran craftiness and leadership to slow the Nuggets’ run, drawing fouls while the team was in the bonus. This slowed Denver's momentum and held them at an arm’s length as they looked to end the quarter. The Suns had three starters with 10+ points, Devin Booker (15), Chris Paul (11), and Deandre Ayton (10).
Jokic instinctively did the same, drawing fouls and getting to the line, and closed the quarter with 19-10 run. He ended the first half with 15 points, including 5-of-8 from the line, along with 12 rebounds. Denver’s bench outscored the Suns 21-12.
Suns up 4 at the half, 59-55.
Phoenix has owned the third quarter in the series thus far, as they were a +19 in the two games at home. Tonight they were a +10.
Mikal Bridges was in attack mode to start the third, abusing MPJ as he tried to contest the three-point line. Pump fake and drive was the recipe for Bridges’ early Q3 success. And an early block and the Warden was making his presence felt as Phoenix opened on a 10-3 run, 5 of which were from Mikal.
Ayton’s defense on Jokic continued to be stellar. You’ll never stop the guy. He’s the league MVP. Deandre Ayton used his athleticism and lateral quickness to beat the Joker to his spots. This equated to pass outs or contested/alternated shots. I’m continually amazed at how effective he is. And truthfully, I shouldn't be.
Denver would punch, the Suns would punch back. The crowd would get into it, the Suns would quiet them. Chris Paul orchestrated the offense splendidly in the third and managed the keep the crowd uneasy. They were up and down more than a congregation at St. Thomas on Sunday morning.
Paul’ mid-range shot continued to be highly effective as it has much of the year. He drew fouls in a fashion that only the Point God could.
2006-2020: Man I hate the way Chris Paul plays— Espo (@Espo) June 12, 2021
2021: CP3 is a genius on the floor and a complete master of the game
Phoenix scored 31 points in the third, holding the Nuggets to 21, and carried a 14-point lead into the 4th, 90-76.
The Suns opened the 4th on a quick 6-0 run and, down 20 points, Nuggets head coach Michael Malone had to call a timeout. When Dario Saric is outplaying Paul Millsap, yeah, you need to talk about it.
The response from Denver? A 7-0 run. The crowd was beginning to feel like a run was on the horizon. Jae Crowder hit a big three to quite the crowd and soon the emotion of the game frustrated the MVP recipient Nikola Jokic. He received a technical foul following a dribble-out-of-bounds.
Richard Jefferson: “You’re not the MVP if you don’t get a technical the night you get the trophy.”— Andrew (@AndrewLeezus) June 12, 2021
And then it was Chris Paul time.
He once again began hitting mid-range jumpers, dishing out daggers with every make. The Phoenix lead ballooned to 19 with 4:58 left in the game. There would be no coming back for the Nuggets.
The Suns backcourt outscored Denver’s 55-11. Jokic posted a triple-double with 30 points and 20 rebounds, but did so in a losing effort. Phoenix wins by 14, 116-102
Of 426 series, the team up 2-0 went on to win 399 of them. That’s good for a 93.7% success rate. A team that goes up 3-0 is 142-0.
Game 4 is 5:00pm on Sunday.
LETS GO SUNS!