PHOENIX — – Chris Paul is a 36-year-old man who can still put together an NBA point guard version of a virtuoso performance: fifteen assists, no turnover and it sparked another blowout playoff win for his rolling Phoenix Suns.
“I feel good,” said Paul. “I feel really good.”
The timeless Paul added 17 points, Devin Booker had 18 points and 10 rebounds and Phoenix defeated the Denver Nuggets 123-98 on Wednesday night to take a 2-0 lead in the Western Conference semifinals.
Paul was particularly impressive and it seems that his ailing right shoulder – which is his game against the . very limited Los Angeles Lakers in the first round – is not such a problem anymore. The 11-time All-Star had 21 points and 11 assists in Game 1.
Nikola Joki had 24 points and 13 rebounds for Denver, a day after taking the NBA’s Most Valuable Player award. But the Nuggets couldn’t find anyone else to score consistently, forcing them to return to Denver on Friday night for Game 3.
“This was an embarrassing performance for myself right down to the last player,” said Denver coach Michael Malone. “We walk out of here with our heads bowed, and rightly so. There was a reason their audience called “Suns in four!” screamed. and they’re calling for a sweep, because if we play like that in Denver, it’s going to be a really fast run.”
Malone later added that he felt the Nuggets “stop tonight, something you never want to see.”
Jokic said: “They play better than us. They make shots, are more aggressive and find the open man. It looks really bad there. We have to change everything.”
The Suns had a 10-point lead at halftime and Jae Crowder added a pair of three-pointers early in the third to make it 60-43. Phoenix took an 86-67 lead in the fourth. The Suns led 31 in the final quarter as they relentlessly pushed the ball even as the lead was building.
“It’s the NBA – crazy things can happen no matter how big your lead is,” says Suns Torrey Craig said.
Crowder had another good night as a long-range gunner and enforcer for the Suns. Him and Denver’s Aaron Gordon were each called for a technical foul after exchanging words and slides midway through the third. On the next possession, Crowder persuaded Gordon to commit an offensive foul, much to the delight of the 16,529 at the Phoenix Suns Arena.
“It was one of our better defensive halves of the year against a good attacking team,” said Suns coach Monty Williams. “We were relentless with our efforts, our communication and coverage.”
Crowder said he doesn’t want to be the team’s enforcer, but the moments keep finding him. He joked that he has already given too much money to the NBA in the form of fines this postseason.
“I have to be smart and protect my money a little bit,” he added with a grin.
Paul pushed the sold-out crowd into a frenzy in the fourth and gave Craig his 15th assist after crisscrossing helpless Denver Paul Millsap. Paul then hit some three-pointers and the party was rolling in the desert with the Suns in their first playoff appearance in 11 seasons.
“It got a little loud, then it got really loud, then it got crazy,” said Paul
Phoenix took a 52-42 lead at halftime after a sloppy first half in which both teams struggled to take offense. Denver was shaky with his long range shooting, making only 1 of 13 three-pointers in the first quarter.
Booker had 13 points before halftime. Jokic countered with 15 points.
Porter started and played 27 minutes, finishing with 11 points and six rebounds, but only shot 3 out of 13 from the field. Barton played for the first time in about six weeks, getting into the game late in the first quarter. He played 16 minutes and had 10 runs and also got a technical foul in the third.
Sunning: Forward Abdel Nader (arthroscopy of the right knee) did not play. … The Suns had a rebounding advantage of 52-46.