AP Photo/Matt York
The Phoenix Suns aren’t satisfied with just having eliminating the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers.
Phoenix picked up where it left off with a 122-105 victory over the Denver Nuggets in Monday’s Game 1 of their second-round playoff series at Phoenix Suns Arena. Chris Paul, Mikal Bridges, Deandre Ayton and Devin Booker led the way for the home team, which looked much better than it did while losing two of three to the Nuggets in the regular season.
A solid showing by Nikola Jokic wasn’t enough for Denver to steal home-court advantage.
Notable Player Stats
- Chris Paul, G, PHO: 21 PTS, 11 AST, 6 REB
- Mikal Bridges, F, PHO: 23 PTS, 5 REB, 5 AST, 2 STL
- Devin Booker, G, PHO: 21 PTS, 8 AST, 4 REB
- Deandre Ayton, C, PHO: 20 PTS, 10 REB
- Nikola Jokic, C, DEN: 22 PTS, 9 REB, 3 AST, 3 BLK, 2 STL
- Aaron Gordon, F, DEN: 18 PTS, 4 REB, 3 STL, 2 AST
Balanced Attack, 3rd-Quarter Run Power Suns to Win
Paul is the veteran leader of the Suns, but Booker was under the spotlight entering this series.
After all, he took the next step in his ascension to superstardom with 47 points in the closeout win over the Lakers and figures to be Phoenix’s go-to option against Denver. Throw in Austin Rivers, who is fresh off chasing Damian Lillard around in the first round, guarding Booker, and the shooting guard was an even bigger storyline.
Booker was aggressive from the start in a back-and-forth first half, and, while that led to some turnovers, it also created a number of scoring chances for both himself and his teammates.
Paul also did his part as a pass-first playmaker to keep the offense rolling, and Ayton held his own inside against Jokic. Throw in outside shooting from Bridges and Torrey Craig, and the Suns looked ready to match the Nuggets punch for punch in a series sure to be full of momentum swings.
And what a swing it was in the third quarter.
Phoenix seized control of the game with a 16-0 spurt after it fell behind by nine thanks in large part to the brilliant play of Bridges. He sank a three, filled the lane in transition and assisted on an Ayton basket to give his team the lead. The crowd was in a frenzy by the time Booker hit an and-1 three-pointer.
The Suns then turned to the equivalent of a lockdown closer in baseball with Paul taking over and controlling the game in the fourth. He hit two mid-range jumpers, an and-1 and a three on four straight possessions to expand the lead to 16 and continued dishing out assists as all five starters scored in double figures.
It was a masterclass of a second half by a team that looks capable of advancing to the Western Conference Finals or beyond.
Nuggets Fall Apart in 2nd Half
Every Nuggets game for the rest of the playoffs will largely be decided by whether they can make up for the loss of the injured Jamal Murray, and the starting point will almost always be the likely MVP of the league.
Jokic looked up to the task of carrying his squad out of the gate Monday, showcasing an array of moves on the blocks and touch on his outside shot. He didn’t just spearhead the Nuggets’ 58-57 halftime lead, though, as Michael Porter Jr. found his stroke from deep and Facundo Campazzo did a little bit of everything.
The point guard is one of the backcourt players tasked with both producing in place of Murray and keeping up with the Paul-Booker tandem, and he hit from deep, battled for boards and set up his teammates all while bothering ball-handlers on the defensive side.
Even with that quick start and Jokic’s stuffing the stat sheet, though, the Nuggets fell apart in the second half.
Monte Morris took a number of ill-advised shots, and the Suns seemed to emphasize cutting off Jokic’s passing lanes. Even though he got his points, the typically smooth offense run by the big man from the elbow wasn’t there as Phoenix seized control of the game.
It was clear how much Denver misses Murray as things slipped away, and 47 points in the second half isn’t going to be enough against the red-hot Suns.
Game 2 is set for 9:30 p.m. ET Wednesday in Phoenix.