The Phoenix Suns are headed to the Western Conference Finals for the first time since the 2009-10 season.
Phoenix completed its second-round sweep of the Denver Nuggets with a 125-118 victory in Sunday's Game 4 at Ball Arena. Chris Paul and Devin Booker led the way for the red-hot Suns, who have now won seven games in a row since falling behind 2-1 to the Los Angeles Lakers in the first round.
Solid showings from Nikola Jokic, Michael Porter Jr. and Will Barton weren't enough for the Nuggets, who were never able to overcome the loss of Jamal Murray in this series.
It also didn't help that Jokic was ejected for a flagrant 2 foul in the third quarter for winding up and hitting Cameron Payne in the face while going for the ball. That undercut Denver's late comeback efforts, which ran out of steam without the MVP on the floor.
Notable Player Stats
- Chris Paul, G, PHO: 37 PTS, 7 AST, 3 REB, 2 STL, 14-of-19 FG
- Devin Booker, G, PHO: 34 PTS, 11 REB, 4 AST
- Nikola Jokic, C, DEN: 22 PTS, 11 REB, 4 AST
- Will Barton, F, DEN: 25 PTS, 5 REB, 2 AST, 2 STL
- Michael Porter Jr., F, DEN: 20 PTS, 4 REB, 3 STL
CP3 Brilliant as Suns Complete the Sweep
If the Suns didn't announce themselves as serious title contenders when they eliminated the defending champions in the first round, they certainly did in the first three games of this series.
After all, the five starters each averaged at least 15 points a night, per the TNT broadcast, with Paul spearheading it all as a distributor and then clutch go-to option with the games on the line. It was more of the same out of the gates Sunday with the future Hall of Famer dishing out assists and hitting his patented midrange shots and everyone else doing their part.
Booker's part was unstoppable scorer, as he had 21 points by halftime thanks to his ability to get to the line and hit from the outside.
Cameron Johnson and Jae Crowder also hit multiple triples in the first half, while the latter was dominant on the defensive side with blocked shots and impressive rebounding. The result was an eight-point halftime lead and a golden opportunity to quickly close out Denver and start focusing on the Western Conference Finals.
The Suns were likely going to finish the Nuggets regardless given how well they've played, but the task seemingly got much easier when Jokic was ejected. Booker went chest-to-chest with the big man after his hard foul on Payne, and the visitors immediately responded with a spurt to push the lead to double digits before the fourth quarter.
Paul put on a show in that third quarter with an array of midrange jumpers and dictated the tempo even when Denver went on a run without Jokic. His presence drew in defenders to open up cutting lanes for Booker and Mikal Bridges as the Suns continued to keep the home team at bay despite the crowd's energy.
CP3 continued to come through whenever the Suns needed a play with an and-one, steal and layup in transition, and midrange jumper to ice it at closing time. He was unstoppable and is now one series away from his first career NBA Finals appearance.
Denver's Comeback Falls Short Without the Ejected Jokic
Never was it more apparent that the league MVP needed some help in this series than it was in Game 3 when the Nuggets lost by 14 even though Jokic posted a dominant triple-double of 32 points, 20 rebounds and 10 assists.
Head coach Michael Malone tried to find some assistance Sunday by inserting Barton and Monte Morris into the starting lineup.
It worked for stretches, as Morris poured in nine points in the first quarter, and Facundo Campazzo was able to provide a spark off the bench with his defense and outside shooting. Throw in Jokic posting a double-double by halftime as he controlled the boards and demonstrated soft touch in the lane, and Denver figured to be up at intermission.
Instead, it still trailed because of an inability to get timely defensive stops.
It is difficult to replicate the desperation of playing for one's season at home, and Barton showed plenty of it with 10 points in the third quarter alone with multiple threes and plays in transition. His burst closed the gap, but much of the progress came to a halt when Jokic was ejected and the deficit grew to double digits heading to the fourth.
To Denver's credit, it would have been easy to fold and start looking ahead to next season without Jokic. However, JaVale McGee was an instant source of energy on the boards and in the paint, Campazzo continued to pester Phoenix's ball-handlers, and Porter and Barton continued looking for their shots.
It was an admirable effort as the role players came storming back to create some late drama, but they eventually ran out of energy and didn't have their go-to option to counter Paul's brilliance down the stretch.
Phoenix is heading to the Western Conference Finals, where it awaits the winner of the series between the Utah Jazz and Los Angeles Clippers.