Chris Paul takes Nuggets apart again, as Suns roll in Game 2


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Chris Paul takes Nuggets apart again, as Suns roll in Game 2

Michael C. Wright


It was all smiles for the Suns after an outburst of Game 2 in Phoenix.

Upright this moment, déjà vu from someone else Chris Paul takeover flooded Phoenix Suns Arena in what could be seen as the crescendo to a 123-98 victory98 on Wednesday over the Denver Nuggets in Game 2 of the Western Conference Semifinals.

Paul researched, diagnosed and attacked all night, discovering Denver’s weaknesses for the second straight game in this series to finish with 17 points and 15 assists with no turnovers as the catalyst for the Suns burning the Nuggets for their most lopsided loss of the season; a defeat that coach Michael Malone called “shameful.”

“I saw a team that wanted to be here and played with purpose and urgency, and a team that didn’t want to be here and played with no urgency,” said Malone. “That’s why we got kicked in the butt.”

Let’s not diminish Paul’s role in it, or Phoenix’s defense, which gave Denver convulsions.

Chis Paul scores 17 points to go with 15 assists with zero turnovers to lead the Suns to a win.

While Kia 2020/21 MVP Nikola Jokic pleaded for a foul with 3:30 to go in the third quarter, Jae Crowder grabbed a rebound and led a 5-on-4 quick break that turned Phoenix into a Mikal Bridges dunk that extended his lead to 20 points.

The most struggle Denver showed throughout the game came in the form of Aaron Gordon’s pushing match with Crowder at the 7:24 mark of the third quarter, which pulled a double technical foul.

That’s the kind of night Phoenix forced the Nuggets.

“It was another team effort,” said Paul in his interview after the game on the field. “We knew how important this game was. We just wanted to keep home advantage and take the win.”

Mission accomplished.

Paul: ‘We have an incredible team’

Now Denver must find a way to pick up the pieces 2-0 in Friday’s Game 3 at Ball Arena, as it’s painfully clear that Jokic can’t do it all alone.

Jokic scored a game-high 24 points to go with 13 rebounds and six assists, but Denver’s supporting cast didn’t offer much support.

Second leading scorer Michael Porter Jr. suffered a back injury in Game 1 that clearly affected his performance in Game 2. Porter shot 3-for-13 from the field and 2-for-9 from range for 11 points, making the game a team-worst minus. 26, when Paul and the Suns pounced on the attacker’s limited mobility attack.

As injured observatory Jamal Murray looked angrily from the bench in street clothes with an ice pack over his left knee, Paul provided more assists than Denver’s entire starting lineup put together. Phoenix exposed the difference in talent between the teams in the backcourt. Porter and starting Nuggets guards Austin Rivers and Facundo Campazzo combined went 6-for-25 from the floor and 4-for-18 from a 3-point range.

Of the Denver starters, only Jokic and Porter scored in double figures, while six Suns produced at least 10 points; Devin Booker poured in a team-high 18 points.

Denver made 11 turnovers that turned Phoenix into 12 points when they beat the Nuggets 14-8 at the break.

“It’s contagious and it’s been that way from the start,” Booker said. “You definitely don’t want to be the guy who doesn’t defend out there. You stick out like a sore thumb.”

Game summary: Suns 123, Nuggets 98

Kind of the way Paul’s precision performances have been showing through the past two games with the guard, at age 36, recording double-doubles in Games 1 and 2.

Game 2 marked Paul’s third playoff outing with more than 15 assists and no turnovers, registering as the most such games in NBA history. Paul also passed Jerry West for 14th on the all-time playoff assist list in Game 2, and now has 974 assists in the playoffs. Paul is just 13 assists away from tying Isiah Thomas for 13th in the league’s annals.

In the past three games, Paul has separated opponents for 38 assists with just two turnovers.

“Just read the game man. Just find open guys, pick my spots,’ said Paul. “We have an incredible team like we have archers.”

Paul’s ability to consistently find them will ultimately decide this series. Surrounded by dead-eye shooters in Booker and Crowder (15 points), Paul makes a habit of getting the rest of the Suns, such as Mikal Bridges (16 points) and Deandre Ayton (15 points, 10 rebounds) as early as possible, sometimes thereby sacrificing his own offensive play.

During the first three quarters, Paul had only scored 9 points, while providing 13 assists.

Inside the NBA: Denver’s ‘Embarrassing’ Game 2 Loss

Denver clearly cannot lean on such a strong supporting cast alongside MVP Jokic.

Will Barton returned to action for the first time since April 23 and provided a solid spark in limited minutes (10 points in 16 minutes). Perhaps Malone will add Barton to the starting lineup again for Game 3. Barton started in 52 games during the regular season.

If Porter isn’t healthy enough for Game 3, Denver definitely needs an addition to Jokic’s score. Perhaps players like Paul Millsap, JaMychal Green and Monte Morris are also seeing more and more minutes ahead.

Porter has been shooting 35% from the field and 29% from a 3-point range so far this series.

Anyway, Paul expects a “high energy game” in Denver on Friday.

“But we’ve been a really good road team all season,” he said.

It’s not hard to say why.

Michael C. Wright is a senior writer for NBA.com. You can email him here, find his archive here and follow him Twitter.

The views expressed on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs, or Turner Broadcasting.

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