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Series Recap: Suns dominate Denver behind deadly backcourt duo

Suns swept the Nuggets and are on their way to their eighth Conference Finals.

2021 NBA Playoffs - Denver Nuggets v Phoenix Suns Photo by Barry Gossage/NBAE via Getty Images

The Suns finished off the Denver Nuggets on Sunday night in the Mile High City by a final score of 125-118. With that victory, the Suns’ seventh in a row in the 2021 NBA Playoffs, they are headed back to the Western Conference Finals for the eighth time in franchise history and for the first time since their last playoff run in 2010.

Please don’t pinch me. I’m not ready to wake up.

It’s hard not to get emotional when you say the words “Phoenix Suns” and “Western Conference Finals”. When you think about the recent history of this team, this franchise, and this fanbase, the excitement is hard to put into words. Something special is happening in Phoenix. It might be 117° outside but you wouldn't know it when you’re at the gas station. People are smiling. “Go Suns” is a common phrase once again. This is a basketball town.

Seeing fans waiting at Sky Harbor Airport last night to greet the players as they arrived back from their Denver business trip in 103-degree temperatures — yes, it’s that hot still at 11:00pm on June nights in Phoenix — was exceptional. Thank you to those who showed up and displayed your love for this team. And thank you for live streaming it on Facebook; it allowed us all to feel as if we were there.

We all know the Suns aren't done yet. But we’re still going to enjoy this moment and embrace this feeling. It may be foreign to some, but for those of us who remember 1993, these emotions are special. This team is special. They exude confidence and poise.

As we soak in the victory and prepare for the next series, let’s take one last look at how the Suns performed in the Western Conference Semifinals as it is a series we won’t soon forget. The Suns are clicking on all cylinders, rolling through teams like the cars Vin Diesel drives in the upcoming F9 movies (can you believe that Fast and Furious is on it’s night fuggin’ film?!).

Each game had it’s own distinct personality. Let’s remember the sweep that was the Suns vs. Nuggets.

Game 1: The “This Crowd is Crazy” Game

Entering the series against the Denver Nuggets, Phoenix was feeling confident. After falling behind 2-1 in their first round matchup against the defending NBA Champions, the Los Angeles Lakers, they rattled off three consecutive wins to take the series. It wasn’t that Phoenix had just beat LA, it was that they beat them convincingly. They won the final three games by an average of 17 points.

Denver, lead by the efforts of Nikola Jokic and Michael Porter, Jr., dispatched the Portland Trail Blazers in 6 games as well, despite not having the services of star guard Jamal Murray (injured in April, out for the season). The Suns were favorites entering the series to the tune of -220 on DraftKings, which was understandable. They had the home court advantage and appeared to be a mismatch for the Nuggets. If only we could bet on the games in Arizona. Soon, my gambling degenerates, very soon...

The first half of Game 1 was a back-and-forth battle that was reminiscent of the games that played earlier in the season between the two teams (Denver won 2 out of 3 versus Phoenix, both of which were OT wins). The Nuggets went into halftime feeling good about how they addressed their deficiencies, leading 58-57. Jokic had 15 points, MPJ added 12, and Facu Campazzo had 11. The Suns were balanced as well, with Booker and Ayton both posting 11 points and Mikal Bridges chipping in 10.

Then, in a premonition on how the series would shape up, the third quarter happened.

Using the home crowd’s cheering as rocket fuel, Phoenix attacked on both sides of the floor. They held the Nuggets to 21 points while scoring 31 themselves on 11-of-19 shooting from the field. It was Mikal Bridges, who was being guarded by Michael Porter, Jr., that capitalized on his matchup. Bridges dropped 13 in the quarter, had 4 rebounds, 2 assists, and 1 steal.

The Suns carried the momentum into the fourth quarter. Phoenix Suns Arena collectively lost their minds when Cameron Payne hit Torrey Craig for a transition “Valley” oop.

Denver would not go away quietly as they shot 50% in the fourth on 11-of-22 shooting. Every time they would make a basket it was the Point God, Chris Paul, who responded on the other end of the floor. Paul had 14 of his 21 points in the fourth quarter and the Suns walked away from Game 1 with a 1-0 series lead and a 122-105 victory.

Game 2: The “Take Your Shirt Off” Game

The home court advantage continued into Game 2 as the Suns’ crowd was crazier than R.P. McMurphy. Devin Booker responded to the moment as he scored 13 first-half points and led the Suns to a 10-point halftime lead. Truthfully, the lead could have been more. Phoenix shot 40% from the field in the first half while holding Denver to 36.7%.

Then the third quarter happened.

The Suns exploded for 34 points behind the efforts of Deandre Ayton. Not only was he keeping the Joker in check — relatively speaking — he put up 10 points and snagged 4 rebounds in the quarter. The lead ballooned to 19 entering the fourth quarter and it was all but over.

It was another party at Phoenix Suns Arena. Seriously, sponsors really dropped the ball by not getting their name on the arena. To be a fly on Talking Stick Resort’s marketing room wall right now, I swear. Sorry. Tangent. The crowd went into a frenzy when this kid decided to take off his Adidas gear.

Phoenix put together a balanced attack in the second consecutive game. Devin Booker led all Suns’ scorers with 18 points and six players ended in double figures. Jokic finished with 24 points and 13 rebounds, but his supporting cast did not do much to help. The Suns won by 25 points, 123-98, and head to Denver.

Game 3: The “You Enjoy the MVP Trophy, We’ll Enjoy the Win” Game

Prior to Game 3, the NBA awarded Nikola Jokic with the MVP trophy he had earned for his regular season efforts. He was the first center to win the award since Shaquille O’Neal in 2000 and the first ever in the history of the Nuggets organization. He celebrated with his brothers and his teammates. The crowd was amped. The weight of the moment could have carried over into the game.

Devin Booker wouldn’t let that happen.

The Suns came out firing on the road, silencing the crowd with a 37-point first quarter. Booker had 11 of those points on 4-of-6 shooting, adding 4 rebounds and 3 assists. If we have learned anything about Booker is he is not afraid of any moment. The opposing crowd is primed and ready to unleash their emotion? Not on Devin’s watch!

Denver fought back in the second quarter as Monte Morris and Will Barton were finding their rhythm. It was to be expected as bench players typically thrive at home. They accounted for 10 of Denver’s 28 points in Q2. The Suns were held to 22 points — which would be their lowest scoring output in one quarter all series — and the Nuggets cut the lead down to 4 entering halftime.

You guessed it. Then the third quarter happened.

The Suns once again dominated the third quarter and, much akin to his Game 1 performance, it was Mikal Bridges who led the charge. His 6 early points and 1 block set the tone for Phoenix and the team outscored Denver by 10 in the quarter. Devin Booker, who ended the night with 28 points, scored 11 in the third.

Chris Paul once again closed out the game in the fourth, hitting his mid-range jumpers at will and sinking the Nuggets. It would be a 14-point win for the Suns, 116-102. The backcourt duo of Devin Booker and Chris Paul combined for 55 points and 12 assists. Denver’s starting duo of Austin Rivers and Facu Campazzo? 11 and 0.

There was also a little ruckus in the crowd in which a Nuggets fan tried to cheap shot a Suns fans. And then got his ass beat. This man, who we do not yet know the identity of, valiantly yelled, “Suns in 4” after dishing out some Mike Tyson-eqsue haymakers. Even Devin Booker is trying to find out who this legend is.

Game 4: The “Hit the Road Jokic” Game

Game 4 would be the chance for Chris Paul to do something he had never done before: sweep a team out of the playoffs. The Suns took an early 28-22 lead into the second quarter and were up 8 at the half. Devin Booker, who had scored 47 points against the Lakers in the closeout game in the previous series, was a determined scorer as he had 21 first half points. Jae Crowder was denying the Nuggets at the rim, having accrued 4 blocks by intermission.

Then the third quarter happened? Yup. Although this time the Suns left the third with only a +5. What was key in the third was the ejection of Nikola Jokic on a flagrant 2 foul when he swiped at the ball and caught Cameron Payne’s face.

The game was all but over at this point. Kudos to the Nuggets as they continued to fight. Without the MVP they scored 35 points in the 4th, their highest scoring total in the series.

Yet it was Chris Paul once again who, recognizing the opportunity to put Denver away, answered the Nuggets every time. He scored a season-high 37 points, including 13 in the fourth. He was an incredible 14-of-19 from the field in Game 4.

The Suns won by 5, 125-118, and completed the sweep.

It truly was an impressive series by the Phoenix Suns. Not only did they dismantle the Denver Nuggets, they did so in a fashion that was memorable for Suns’ fans. Each game carried a moment with it that we will remember.

Looking back on the series you’ll find some interesting tidbits.

  • Of the 16 quarters played, Denver won only 3 of them: Q2 of Game 1, Q2 of Game 3, and Q4 of Game 4.
  • The Suns were a +34 in the third quarter in the series.
  • Phoenix won by an average of 15.7 points.
  • Denver led for a total of 1:30...the entire series.
  • It was the seventh time in Suns history that they swept a team out of the playoffs (their first since doing so against the San Antonio Spurs in 2010).
  • It was the first time since 1989 that the MVP was swept out of the playoffs (Magic Johnson in the NBA Finals against the Detroit Pistons).
  • Phoenix has won 7 in a row, tying their longest win streak this season and surpassing their longest win streak in playoff history.

Chris Paul led the balanced Phoenix scoring attack in the series as he averaged 25.5 points and 10.3 assists. His splits? 62.7/75/100! He also had 1.5 steals per game. Not only was it his scoring but the timing of when he chose to attack. It felt that every time the Nuggets had any sort of momentum, it was CP3 who thwarted it.

Devin Booker wasn’t far behind with 25.3 points, 7.8 rebounds, and 4.5 assists. He continued to display a cold-blooded attitude on the court and ability to adapt to what defenses were throwing at him. Early in the series it appeared that having Aaron Gordon guard him would throw him off of his game. He adjusted and turned it into an advantage, opting to find open shooters when that matchup occurred.

The job that Deandre Ayton did goes way beyond the box score. He held the MVP to 25 points, 13.3 rebounds, and 5.8 assists. Yeah, saying “held” doesn’t feel right when you see those numbers. He had Jokic earn it, however, as the Joker shot 47.7% from the field. He shot 56.6% during the regular season. Ayton had 14.3 and 10.5 himself which is perfectly acceptable when you are posting a 107 defensive rating for the series.

We’ll look back on this series fondly, remember where we were when each game occurred and who we cheered with. It’s series and moments like these that make sports great. The bonds we develop, the alliances we grow, the common foe we cheer against; it is special. I am humbled to have had the opportunity to write about this team for the past season and a half and podcast about it for the past two. The connections that I have made with my fellow Suns’ fans is priceless.

We are looking for the identify of the “Suns in 4” guy. We are now #ChuggingWithTheFellas after every win. We a part of something special right now.

The job is not done. 8 down, 8 to go. But, seeing as the Suns don’t play for at least a week, I’m going to enjoy the last 4.

Go Suns.

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