The Phoenix Suns defeated the Denver Nuggets, 116-102, in Game 3 of the Western Conference semifinals on Friday night at Ball Arena to take a 3-0 series lead and move within one victory of a berth to the conference finals.
For the third straight contest, the Suns had all five of their starters score in double figures, led by starting shooting guard Devin Booker with 28 points, six rebounds and four assists. Starting point guard Chris Paul had 27 points — 16 of which came in the second half — eight assists and six rebounds and starting center Deandre Ayton had a double-double with 10 points and 15 rebounds.
Overall, Phoenix shot 43-of-81 (53.1 percent) from the field, 12-of-26 (46.2 percent) from 3-point range and assisted 26 of its made shots.
Nuggets starting center Nikola Jokic, who received his NBA Most Valuable Player trophy before the game, led all scorers with 32 points, 20 rebounds and 10 assists. He took 29 of his team’s shot attempts while his team made just 26-of-66 (39.3 percent) of its opportunities outside of him.
Phoenix will look to close out Denver on Sunday in Game 4, which will tip off at 5 p.m. MT and be broadcasted on TNT. If the Suns win, they will advance to their first Western Conference Finals since 2009-10, which was also the last time they made the postseason.
Here is what Paul, Booker and Ayton had to say after their team’s Game 3 win.
On how satisfying to win a game like Friday’s with Denver having high emotions from starting center Nikola Jokic receiving his MVP award:
“It’s very satisfying. We knew that this was going to be an emotional game for them, with Joker being presented the MVP trophy before the game. And we just kept talking about trying to withstand their run. It’s a good win for us. That team over there, they play hard the entire game and it’s a good win.”
On what has stood out about the Suns’ offensive development this season:
“I think it’s a huge credit to our coaching staff. We so prepared man, going into every game. And I think the dopest part about it is to see the progression of it. To see the attention to detail early in the season, regular season, halfway through the season. And it’s fun playing the way we play. The coaches have prepared us for everything. ‘If they trap, look at this. Share the ball. Point-five.’ It’s a special team to be a part of.”
On what he’s most proud of that’s translating to games from practices:
“With our team all season long, we’ve had growing pains. We’ve had this, that. Me and DA talking about what we see on the screen, ‘Hold the screen, set it this way.’ We all have been getting to know each other, and I can’t say enough about DA and what he does for our team. He does all the things that don’t show up on the stat sheet. Those jump shots that I hit towards the end of the game, those don’t happen without him setting a screen, setting it with pace, the rebounds and all that. He’s so selfless, man, and we on him a lot. But he’s showing you why he is who he is.”
On the Suns holding double-digit leads for most of their last five fourth quarters:
“I think it just shows how balanced our team is. I said it last game, when guys come out, we tag in. Me and Book was talking about it after the game, (backup point guard) Cam Payne hit the stepback 3(-pointer), (backup forward) Cam Johnson hit the 3. We really play as a team and we’ve built that trust over the season. It’s a fun way to play.”
Nikola Jokic picks up a technical with 6:12 left in the fourth. Wanted a foul on this play but looked like good defense.— Trevor Booth (@TrevorMBooth) June 12, 2021
Appeared the Nuggets' window to come back has closed. #Suns up 102-85 with 5:05 left. pic.twitter.com/9OoyuVqslF
On how he felt Ayton did defensively against Jokic:
“Unbelievable. Unbelievable. I mean, he (Jokic) is the MVP for a reason and we just tell DA all game long, ‘Just make it tough on him. Make it tough on him.’ And DA’s attention to detail, how he guards, how he boxes out, rebounds and running. Like I said, we ask so much of him and he can’t do any more than he’s doing.”
On the Suns winning six consecutive postseason games and how satisfying it has been:
“I honestly think that’s the best part about it is, we’re having fun with it. We’re playing for each other. When things get tough, we come together even more. So just little things like that that we worked on through the regular season and we talked about in the regular season is coming true right now. So we’re still sticking with it, we still have a closeout game Sunday that we’re looking forward to. So we have our eyes on the prize and we’re going to keep going.”
On what has allowed the Suns to wear teams down as games have progressed of late:
“I think it’s just the depth that we’ve talked about all the way through. Some of our players that are not even in the rotation right now, (backup guards) Langston (Galloway), Jevon (Carter), E’Twaun (Moore), are also players too and they push us every day in practice. So I think the depth of our team, 15, 16, 17 people deep are just ready to play. I think that can wear on a team when the subs come in. Or I remember (Kentucky) coach [John Calipari] used to call us, ‘The second platoon, the reinforcements come in.’ And there’s no drop-off there. So it takes a total team effort for us and we showed that tonight.”
On what he feels is unique about the Suns’ coaching staff and how they prepare the team every single day:
“Just straight shooters. They’re just real with you, real honest with each other. Same thing I talk about with our team on the floor, that no one has hard feelings if somebody is giving them some advice or constructive criticism. We take it up, we take it on and we take on the challenge and we try not to make the same mistakes again. So we get that same thing from the coaching staff, from (head) coach [Monty Williams], coach [Kevin Young], coach Willie Green, all the way through, (assistant) Brian Randle, everybody. It takes a collective group to do what we’ve been doing.”
On how good of a sign it is for the Suns when he and starting point guard Chris Paul are getting open mid-range shots:
“Yeah, I think they switched their coverage a little bit. I think what led to a few of my turnovers to start the game were, they’re doing the hard chase and having a drop coverage, which is different from the first two games. And just knowing that they’re going to make some type of adjustment, probably try and limit corner threes that they were giving up in the first few games. So that’s on me and Chris, I think you see late in the game Chris got there a few times and closed out the game with a couple of them. But that’s an easier shot when you go in not worrying about the guy behind you and just making them pay for playing that type of defense.”
On what Ayton’s defense on Jokic means for the Suns and his overall impact in the playoffs:
“Deandre’s been playing his ass off the whole playoffs. From going from (Los Angeles Lakers starting forward) Anthony Davis first to Jokic, the MVP of the league, those aren’t easy matchups. We’re proud of him and his growth, we tell him, ‘Just make it hard. Just make it hard on him. He’s going to hit some tough shots, that’s what he does. Just consistently wear him down throughout the game, and he’s so locked in to that and I know he has a lot of respect for Jokic. And I love when he respects somebody and he goes at them that much more. That’s the mindset that you need to have, and he’s been making it tough on him. Obviously, he still had 32 (points) and got it going a little bit but I felt it took 29 shots to get there and Deandre’s just taking on the challenge. I’m proud of it.”
On Paul taking over the game in the fourth quarter for the third straight game and what that’s like for him as a teammate:
“I love it. That takes the pressure off, it creates open shots for everybody. I think the tandem of us both being able to do that and create for other people at the same time makes it a tough coverage for the defense, and that’s that. That’s been the story of the season for us and we know we’re going to stick with it.”
On the most impressive part of the Suns’ play against the Nuggets and what he’s learned from Paul in the playoffs:
“I’d say the ability to just keep playing. We’ve had some really good fourth quarters to close teams out and make the margin kind of unreachable. But teams have been around a lot of games. I think we were down at halftime, the last game in Phoenix to Denver. So just trying to establish the wear-down effect. Just keep playing hard all the way through the whole game. I feel like that’s a lot to deal with. And learning from Chris, that’s been something before we were even teammates. Our relationship started even before I was in the NBA, and he’s always been that type of guy, that mentor to come in and give you anything you see. Every time we played against him when he was in [Oklahoma City] or Houston, he always chopped it up with me after the game. And now seeing it firsthand, seeing his approach to the game, seeing his routine, seeing how he takes care of his body, I’m listening to a bunch of things off the court that leads to his success on the court. So it’s definitely inspiring.”
On how the Suns got off to a good start despite Jokic receiving his MVP award:
“We weren’t focused on that, to be honest. We huddled up as a team as they were doing the ceremony and said, ‘Right when they get off the court, let’s go out there and be locked in. So that’s been our main objective for us throughout the whole season is trying to just worry about ourselves, worry about us as a team and what we’re doing in-house. And that’s created a lot of success for us.”
On how important it was to beat the Nuggets with a collective effort on a night in which Jokic received his MVP trophy:
“That’s what we do. We stick to what we do best, stuck to our coverages. We played as a unit together, we made sure we emphasized togetherness tonight. We know we’re here in a great city, great arena as well, it was loud. But just having your brothers’ back and staying focused was the main thing.”
On Denver switching its defensive coverages multiple times and the Suns reacting well to it:
“Just mainly knowing each other’s personnel. We have so much, we so many like sizes on our team as well and a lot of guys who can shoot the ball. So it’s just really sharing the ball, playing in our offense and just sharing it. Sharing the ball and moving it, and that’s what we do a great job of. Trusting our teammates, trusting our two superstars, [Paul] and [Booker], to make great plays. And that’s what they did.”
On what stood out to him about the box score during the press conference:
“Jokic, he had 20 rebounds. That’s 10 offensive rebounds, 10 defensive (rebounds) — that’s insane. Yeah, that’s insane. And 10 assists, I did not know that. That’s amazing. Yep, he’s the MVP.”
If he felt like he made it tough on Jokic defensively:
“I tried. I tried, honestly. I can just say I tried, that’s all I can say.”
On what he saw from Paul when he took over in the fourth quarter:
“Man, [Paul] knows best. He knows when we need shots like that to be knocked down where the defense, the coverages change late in the stretch where the roll isn’t available, corner threes ain’t available, we just got to guard mano [a] mano and let’s go to the pick-and-roll. And C is, like we all say, the ‘Point God.’ And he just, he took care of business. Great players make great plays and we trusted him and just try to get somebody off of him just to give him a little space, get to his spots. And he executed.”
On the team’s mindset for Game 4, knowing it can close the series on the road:
“Not getting happy on the farm. Know that this is a great team, and we have to respect everyone on their team and we have to finish the job the correct way. Finish the classic way and compete until the end.”
On being mic’d up for the ESPN broadcast:
“First of all, I just warned all my teammates that I had a mic on, so just be careful. And just having fun, to be honest. I love talking to my teammates during the game, I love communicating on defense even though it was very loud in there. But other than that, I’m not really thinking about that. I’m just competing the best way I can and communicating. Hopefully you guys captured some of that today.”