Paul big again when beating Suns Nuggets


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Paul big again when beating Suns Nuggets

Associated PressSuns guard Chris Paul is defended by the Nuggets’ Facundo Campazzo during the first half of Wednesday’s Game 2 of their playoff series in Phoenix. The Suns won 123-98 and now lead the series 2-0.


Phoenix Suns forward Dario Saric (20) dunks against the Denver Nuggets during the first half of Game 2 of an NBA basketball second round playoff series, Wednesday, June 9, 2021, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York)

Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic (15) fires as Phoenix Suns forward Jae Crowder (99) defends during the first half of Game 2 of an NBA basketball second round playoff series, Wednesday, June 9, 2021, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York)

Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic (15) fires as Phoenix Suns forward defends Dario Saric during the first half of Game 2 of an NBA basketball second round playoff series, Wednesday, June 9, 2021, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York)

Phoenix Suns guards Devin Booker, left, high fives striker Dario Saric after a three-pointer against the Denver Nuggets during the first half of Game 2 of an NBA basketball second round playoff series, Wednesday, June 9, 2021, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York)

Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker (1) celebrates during the second half of Game 2 of a second-round NBA playoff basketball against the Denver Nuggets, Wednesday, June 9, 2021, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York)

Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker tries to save a loose ball while colliding with Denver Nuggets head coach Michael Malone during the second half of Game 2 of an NBA basketball second round playoff series, Wednesday, June 9, 2021, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York)

Officials separate Phoenix Suns players and Denver Nuggets players during the second half of Game 2 of an NBA basketball second-round playoff series, Wednesday, June 9, 2021, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York)

Former Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps watches the Phoenix Suns and the Denver Nuggets 118 during the first half of Game 2 of an NBA basketball second round playoff series, Wednesday, June 9, 2021, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York)

Phoenix Suns forward Cameron Johnson (23) passes Denver Nuggets forward JaMychal Green (0) during the first half of Game 2 of an NBA basketball second round playoff series, Wednesday, June 9, 2021, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York)

Phoenix Suns guard Chris Paul fires as Denver Nuggets guard Facundo Campazzo (7) defends during the first half of Game 2 of an NBA basketball second round playoff series, Wednesday, June 9, 2021, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York)

Phoenix Suns forward Dario Saric, left, and Denver Nuggets forward Paul Millsap chase a loose ball during the first half of Game 2 of an NBA basketball second round playoff series, Wednesday, June 9, 2021, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York)

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 turnovers and it sparked another blow of the playoff win for his rolling Phoenix suns.

“I feel good,” said Paul. “I feel really good.”

Apparently.

The ageless 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.

Deandre Ayton had 15 points and 10 rebounds, and Mikal Bridges added 16 points for the evenly matched Suns in their fifth straight win.

Paul was particularly impressive and it seems that his ailing right shoulder – which severely limited his first-round play against the Los Angeles Lakers – isn’t much of an issue anymore. The 11-time All-Star had 21 points and 11 assists in Game 1.

Nikola Jokic had 24 points and 13 rebounds for Denver, a day after he was awarded 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.”

The Suns had a 10-point lead at halftime on Wednesday 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,” said Suns forward Torrey Craig.

Crowder had another good night as a long-range gunner and enforcer for the Suns. He and Aaron Gordon of Denver 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 forward 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.

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.

Hurtful NUGGETS

Some of Denver’s better players have dealt with injuries, including striker Michael Porter Jr. (back) and guard Will Barton (hamstring). Both were listed on the injury report.

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.

TIP-INS

Nuggets: Guards PJ Dozier (right adductors) and Jamal Murray (left ACL surgery) didn’t play. … Millsap had 11 points and six rebounds.

Suns: Striker Abdel Nader (right knee arthroscopy) did not play. … The Suns had a rebounding advantage of 52-46.

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More AP NBA: https://apnews.com/hub/NBA and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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