The Phoenix Suns trailed for a total of 59 seconds during the fourth and final game of the series, thanks to Chris Paul’s inability to miss and Devin Booker’s inability to be stopped, proving to doubters they should be the favorite in the Conference Finals no matter who they face.
The city of Phoenix has reason to celebrate today thanks to their boys in orange who finished off last year’s Western Conference Finals runner-ups, the Denver Nuggets, at their own home by a score of 125-118.
Phoenix has been dominant throughout the entire four-game series against Denver and last night culminated with a show-stopping performance by the Suns’ veteran leader Chris Paul, who had 37 points on 14-for-19 shooting and nine for nine from the free-throw line.
Not only was the loss a major jab in the Nuggets’ sides but their stadium, Ball Stadium, was filled with a large portion of fans sporting the Suns’ purple-and-orange rather than the Nuggets’ blue-and-yellow (even though the team wore their red ‘City Edition’ jerseys last night) which showed even through the television screen after a Phoenix three-pointer or a foul was called against Denver.
CP3 put on a dazzling display of skill during the last two quarters, especially after Nikola Jokić got ejected late in the 3rd quarter, which included a four-minute and 10-second stretch in the third where Paul went six for six from the field and looked completely unstoppable.
Although most fans of the NBA would have liked to see Jokić try to defend his homecourt and not have his season ended 15 minutes early the refs explained their decision to call it a flagrant two rather than a flagrant one by citing that his “windup, impact and follow-through” all fit the bill of being unnecessary and excessive–the key difference between one and two–which, in turn, led to Jokić being ejected with 3:52 left in the third quarter.
Many analysts (below), fans of the NBA, NBA players themselves (below), and even players from other leagues (below) all criticized the decision by the referees to eject the 2021 NBA MVP in an elimination game that was just nearing the end of a tough, but commendable, third quarter where the Nuggets had pulled within one point (the Nuggets were down by eight points when the foul happened).
Jokić stated after the game that he was trying to “change the rhythm of the game” and “to give [Denver] some energy, maybe change the whistle a little bit…” which is why he said the foul ended up being so hard. Jokić also stated that he said sorry to Bridges before leaving for the locker room because “I did not want to injure him or hit him in the head on purpose.”
The Suns were still going to win this game even with the MVP on the floor, much like their first series where it didn’t matter whether Anthony Davis got injured or not, but with Jokić still getting minutes in the fourth, the Nuggets would have had their best shot at a comeback to make the series 3-1.
That statement is meant with no disrespect to the Nuggets’ ability to win without star players, they obviously did so without their star PG Jamal Murray at the tail end of the season, but the Suns have been on a tear since going down 2-1 to LeBron and the Lakers a couple of weeks ago.
It wasn’t just one Phoenix Suns player either, nor was it a series where a different player had to step up in every game to boost the team where it may have needed to be helped. No, this Suns team was all-around spectacular for the past four games:
- Deandre Ayton:
14.3 ppg on 59.8 FG% / 10.5 rpg / and he held Jokić to 24-for-59 shooting (.407)
- Devin Booker:
25.3 ppg on 50.4 FG% / 30.4 3P% / 7.8 rbg / 4.5 apg
- Mikal Bridges:
16 ppg on 53.2 FG% / 3.8 rpg / 1.5 steals per game / and 1.8 apg
- Chris Paul:
25.5 ppg on 61.8 FG% / 58.4 3P% / 5 rpg / 1.5 spg/ and 10.3 apg
- Jae Crowder:
12 ppg on 56.0 FG% / 60.4 3P% / 5.8 rpg / +66 when on the floor
Each of the Suns starting five averaged double-digit points, all five have also contributed to the teams’ 12 double-doubles so far this postseason, and while not every game has had to have someone come out and dominate or take charge there has been a few games where such a thing has happened, last night was one of them.
CP3’s 37 points last night all came from inside the three-point line and, as stated earlier, came mainly from a surging third quarter–a common practice by the Suns in each of the last four games.
His 37 points ties Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for the most points by a 36-year old (or older) ever in a playoff game without a three-point attempt; last night’s game was also CP3’s first game since May 8th, 2018 where he scored 37 or more, which was one more reason to believe he will be ready to take this team to the gates of the NBA Finals no matter who comes out of the Clippers/Jazz matchup.
If the Suns starting five, as well as their bench which averaged 30.3 ppg in the semifinals series against Denver, can continue to stay consistent–which should not be hard under the veteran leadership of Paul–and Ayton can maintain his defensive presence under the rim then this team should roll through the next team as they did against the Denver and the MVP as well as LeBron James and the LA Lakers.
When this Suns team gets hot no defense can stop it (yes, even Milwaukee’s) and no offense can keep up with it (yes, even Brooklyn’s), so the rest of the West should be preparing better than Denver did, and the entire Eastern Conference should be doing so as well…