They’ve done it!
This historic season just got a little bit sweeter for the Phoenix Suns.
And what makes this amazing moment even better is this: they’re far from finished with basketball on the year.
“Soft, underwhelming” and “no heart” were all descriptive attributes that Nuggets head coach Michael Malone slapped on his team after their porous performance in Games One through Three.
Phoenix unloaded a can of whoop-butt on the recently-named MVP and his undermanned Nuggets squad in the series’ opening contests, and as time wore on in the affair, it was clear that the Suns were the deeper group from the jump.
They barely trailed Denver in each of the three matchups, emphatically closing the door on the Nuggets’ quest for gold with mammoth-sized third quarter explosions that carried through to the final period.
Game Four though, was an entirely different story for the Nuggets, and although they weren’t able to pull off their ultimate goal in their endeavors, they closed the battle with the ultimate effort, gutting it out until the very end.
Nikola Jokic opened the game with an easy score, whipping around to his right side on a post move to finish on a bread-and-butter conversion to break the tie.
And while Denver’s best scorer came out of the gates with a clear mission to get shots off early and often, Phoenix’s premier bucket-getter was just as aggressive.
Devin Booker saw Jokic’s two, and raised him a three on a smooth stepback 24-footer to give the Suns an early lead — an advent they’d been used to throughout the duration of the series.
PHX remained steadfast from there, racing out to a 7-2 advantage with a Mikal Bridges floater, and vintage Chris Paul pull-up jumper.
Jokic responded with a two of his own, but help in the form of additional scoring was a scarce as water in the desert, and Denver sputtered to collect points, starting with a miserable 2-8 mark from the floor.
CP3’s midrange game was effortless, as Phoenix continuously called his number on its classic high screen-and-roll look with Deandre Ayton.
Paul was a masterful ball-handler, keeping the rock on a string, and unleashing several deft fakes and dekes as he toyed with his defenders en route to a bucket or assist.
The Suns built a 20-10 edge guided by Paul’s wizardry, but Denver was valiant to ensure that Phoenix’s lead didn’t stay above double-digits.
Austin Rivers and Monte Morris hit back-to-back threes to make it 22-16 with around four minutes left, while Morris continued to keep his opponent honest with several tough shots. He finished the quarter with a 4/5 clip from the floor.
Still though, Denver had trouble buying a basket. They trudged their way through a scoreless stretch that lasted over two minutes as the quarter closed, and aside from Jokic and Morris, were absent of consistent production on the offensive end.
Phoenix won the first quarter, 28-22.
Facundo Campazzo’s gnat-like disruptiveness reigned supreme in the second quarter’s inception.
He was a meddling annoyance on both ends of the floor to begin the period, causing issues on defense with his fleet-footed deftness, and dishing out numerous dimes to ready scorers as Denver tried to claw back into the game.
Phoenix’s three-point shooting though, created far more havoc as they built upon their advantage.
Cam Johnson, who’s been a calculated sniper all season long, etched his first mark on the scoreboard with a nothing-but net three to help his team go up 36-27, before a Michael Porter Jr. steal and layup ticked the momentum pendulum back in the Nuggets’ direction.
Campazzo remained aggressive, but overplayed a few on-ball possessions on defense, collecting three fouls in nine minutes, and receiving an early boot from Malone.
Aaron Gordon, who struggled mightily in the series’ earlier games (he had six points in Game Two, and four in Three) rattled off an impressive behind-the-back move on a fast-break, finishing with an emphatic slam to cut PHX’s lead to two, 43-41.
But Booker displayed the poise of a seasoned playoff vet, responding to the Nuggets run with a calm half court possession of his own that ended in a midrange jay.
Chris Paul matched Book’s high-octane energy with a score of his own, giving his team a 52-46 lead.
Chris Paul dances with the MVP then drains the fadeaway J pic.twitter.com/DuqZPMgx6y— ClutchPoints (@ClutchPointsApp) June 14, 2021
Phoenix’s ball movement was impeccable, and they were immovable on the defensive end, sparked by three blocks from Jae Crowder.
Booker ripped off another dazzling move to score another basket towards the quarter’s close, and the Suns entered the break with a 63-55 lead.
Book ended the first half with 21 points, while Paul registered 12 with five assists. The Suns shot a perfect 15-15 from the free-throw line.
Jokic had 18 in the first.
The Suns have been known for their critical third quarter eruptions. They’ve ended each third period in the series with a double-digit advantage, and this one was no different.
But this third quarter in particular, was the biggest for the Suns all season — and it wasn’t because of their own endeavors.
Denver burst out to a 7-0 run to cut its deficit to one at 71-70, bringing the crowd to a roar unlike any that’s been heard in the Mile High throughout the two teams’ contests.
But Mr. calm, cool and collected was undeterred by the big flare.
Paul, and head coach Monty Williams went right back to the classic screen and roll, which brought upon fruitful results on a number of possessions. Paul, whose decision-making efficacy has been likened to some of the game’s greatest ever, showed exactly why — finding Ayton on an easy conversion inside, or finishing effortlessly himself.
Phoenix’s efficient defense reared itself again, and they got a much-needed airlift from a steal, galloping rim-run and dunk from Booker.
Paul then unearthed a demigod-like shot-making display, taking advantage of Michael Porter Jr’s defensive deficiencies, and sinking four in a row en route to a beautiful third-quarter stat-line: 12 points on a perfect 6-6 mark.
Then came the controversy.
After disagreeing a no-call on what he thought was a foul, Nikola Jokic leveled Cam Payne with an forearm to the nose, which resulted in a flagrant two call on the MVP with 3:52 to go.
Devin Booker received a technical for his part in the resulting skirmish, but Denver’s morale absolutely deflated after Jokic was sent sauntering back to the locker room.
The score was 81-75 when Jokic left. It was 96-83 at the end of the period, aided by a 12-3 run.
And without their spirited alpha dog, the game was all but over for the Nuggs.
Jokic's reaction after getting ejected pic.twitter.com/B15qj5OvSR— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) June 14, 2021
Or so we thought.
Denver did not go away lightly, and found some much-needed energy in the form of scores from Will Barton and MPJ.
But they just couldn’t re-salvage themselves after losing Jokic, and the Nuggs were visibly winded as time continued to wear on in the fourth.
Chris Paul collected a technical foul with eight minutes left after disagreeing with Campazzo’s physicality on defense, and Denver burst back shortly thereafter, cutting the lead to six at 103-97.
Despite the tech though, Paul’s morale was unwavering.
The Suns quickly stormed back into a double-digit lead, as the 36-year old veteran sunk shot after shot to close the affair.
He was unguardable in the screen-and-roll, dogged on defense, and unstoppable as a passer. And don’t even get me started on his ball-handling.
A breakaway layup from Paul closed the coffin on Denver, and Deandre Ayton’s man-jam drove the nail right through it.
Final score: 125-118. SUNS WIN. The Boyz in the Valley are going to the Western Conference final!
Paul finished with 37 points on a 14-19 mark from the floor to complement seven assists and two steals.
Monty Williams and Chris Paul share a special moment after advancing to the Western Conference Finals: pic.twitter.com/lJvmvWRUZo— Evan Sidery (@esidery) June 14, 2021
“God is good,” was all Paul had to say as he was showered with “CP3” chants from traveling Suns fans. “It’s all love.”
And one thing is undeniable: ANYONE associated with the Suns is absolutely feeling, and sharing in ALL of the love that this team is feeling right now. To the WCF we go.