The Nuggets came out on fire and stayed that way for a long time, even taking a nine-point lead (72-63) into the third quarter, before the Suns and their fans absolutely exploded all over them.
Before the Nuggets knew what hit them, the Suns had gone on a 31-7 run and eventually took an 18-point lead before the fourth quarter was half over.
Along the way, Mikal Bridges dominated the start of the run, Devin Booker took over the middle and Chris Paul dominated the back half. We saw a complete game on both ends, holding the vaunted Nuggets offense to empty possession after empty possession.
From there, the Suns coasted to the win to take a 1-0 series lead.
Devin Booker finished with 21 points and 8 assists, while Chris Paul finished with 21 points and 11 assists. Deandre Ayton had 20 points and 10 rebounds to MVP-candidate Nikola Jokic 22 and 9. The Suns outscored the Nuggets 65-47 in the second half. Michael Porter Jr. and Jokic combined for only 10 points in the half.
Suns win, 122-105.
How it unfolded...
The Suns crowd was here and (mostly) loud as ever, despite having no organic catchphrase to chant in pregame warmups to get them hot and ready.
Here’s my only other pregame comment: Chris Paul was taking easy threes in warmups, so that’s good.
Once the game started, both teams were hyped up but it was the Nuggets making all the early shots (+9 on threes) to take a 18-14 before half the quarter was over. This is definitely NOT the Lakers who couldn’t hit the backboard sometimes let along the bottom of the net.
The Suns got discombobulated on their own switching early, letting the Nuggets get shots on mismatches in rhythm before the Suns could recover.
But then the Suns found some rhythm of their own, and the Nuggets made a couple of turnovers from trying to pass too fast and often. But the Suns missed threes on a few possessions in a row and couldn’t get that lead.
The Nuggets attacked the rim every chance they got, scoring 14 of their first 24 points in the paint, while the Suns kept jacking and missing threes (1 for 8 in the first 9 minutes).
I’m exactly sure how the Suns tied it at 28-28 at the end of the quarter, considering how well the Nuggets were playing. But the Suns played with a whole boatload of energy to make up for their lack of shotmaking. It helped that the Nuggets missed their last 7 threes of the period after making 3-4 to start.
After one quarter, Nuggets splits are 54/27 while the Suns are 47/27. Jokic leads the Nuggets with 10/4 and one block while Ayton leads the Suns with 9/2 and one steal. Paul and Booker each have 4 assists.
Suns started out the second quarter the way they started the game — missing opens while the Nuggets made theirs — and got down by 7 again (38-31). So far the Suns are having no success guarding Michael Porter Jr. (12 points on 5-7 shooting, including 2-3 on threes).
Chris Paul scored his first points in the second quarter, pulling the Suns back to 40-37 with a three.
The Suns finally got the lead late in the second quarter on a ton of effort and activity, using a pair of transition opportunities to take a 53-50 lead. Meanwhile, Jokic is doing everything he can to get DA into foul trouble, but DA still holding strong (1 foul).
But then Denver made some really good plays to take the lead back, scoring 8 straight points. But the Suns came back themselves, only down 1 at halftime.
Nuggets up 58-57 at half on 53/33/50 splits, while the Suns were at 45/33/100. Both teams were 7/21 on threes, while Nuggets had 4 more field goals to the Suns 7 more free throws. The Nuggets led the Suns 30-22 on points in the paint, mostly on rim runs by anyone who could cut to the basket... or Jokic bulking his way in.
Torrey Craig played hard in his minutes, draining a pair of threes, 5 rebounds and a block. The Suns only problem was Cam Johnson, Mikal Bridges and Jae Crowder combining for 3/13 on threes.
Suns — Booker 11/5, Ayton 11/7, Bridges 10/2/2, Paul 5/7/3, Craig 6/5
Nuggets — Porter 12/4/2, Jokic 15/6/1, Campazzo 11/4/2
Welp the Suns started the third quarter the same way they started the first and second quarters — taking and missing threes, while the Nuggets attacked the paint. The Nuggets version has won each time. Maybe change the formula?
Also, the Nuggets switched their assignments and put Aaron Gordon on Devin Booker full time and Austin Rivers on Chris Paul, while hiding Facunco Campazzo on Mikal Bridges in the corner.
Soon the Nuggets took a 72-63 lead before the Suns started coming back. That includes Bridges getting out of the corner for a mid-paint shot and then making a three.
Jokic committed his “first” personal foul on an Ayton drive that produced an and-one to give the Suns the lead back 73-72. Jokic was frustrated not getting foul calls on his own end.
Booker followed that with an and-one three where he was knocked to the ground and took the same pose as the game winner over Kawhi Leonard.
Soon it was a 16-0 Suns run to take a 7-point lead. By the end of the quarter the Suns were on a 25-7 run to take a 9-point lead in the 4th. HOLY MOLY. Mikal Bridges exploded for 13 points in the quarter after the Nuggets tried to hide Campazzo on him.
And then Chris Paul happened. He made shot after shot, pass after pass, and the Suns quickly took an 18-point lead that had the crowd absolutely NUTS. The roof nearly exploded! I don’t know that I have ever heard the crowd THAT loud in my life, but I’m sure I’m suffering from a bit of recency bias.