We have ourselves a series.
They say that a series begins when the home team loses on its own floor. Thus far, that hasn't happened in the second round after Phoenix took down Denver, 121-114, in Game 3 on Friday night. No team has ever recovered from a 3-0 deficit in NBA playoff history, so step one for Phoenix was claiming its first game at home. The Suns can even the series on Sunday, currently down 2-1.
Still, Denver is sitting pretty. 94 of teams that have claimed a 2-0 advantage to open a second-round series have gone on to win that series. Those are certainly favorable odds for the Nuggets.
"I'm confident in our guys when we do face adversity," said Michael Malone. "This is a team that's been through a lot over the last three, four years. 3-1 deficits, injuries, whatever you want to call it. This team always responds. It's just in our nature, it's in my nature, and I think we're gonna keep on fighting no matter what."
Phoenix's stars, Devin Booker and Kevin Durant, scored more than 70 percent of their team's total points. The duo also put up 23 of Phoenix's 28 points in the fourth quarter.
Booker was on another planet, dropping 47 points on efficiency that almost looks fake it's so outrageous by going 20-of-25 from the field. His scoring in transition was especially problematic for Denver's defense, and the Suns as a team outscored Denver 23-11 on the fastbreak.
"We were too all over the place, especially in the first half. We were just too discombobulated like we didn't know we're doing the half," said Murray about Denver's defense Booker. "We weren't clean with it."
Durant did not have his most efficient scoring night, going just 12-of-31 from the field, but he did get the line for 14 made free throws to finish with 39 points overall.
Nikola Jokić had a historic night with 28 points, 17 assists, and 17 rebounds. He became the first player in NBA history to finish a playoff game with at least 25 points, 15 assists, and 15 rebounds.
Michael Porter Jr. had his best game of the series and finished with 21 points on 6-of-10 made threes, a few of which were particularly difficult movement shots.
"I knew it for myself. I had to find a way to help get him going," said Michael Malone about MPJ. "After Games 1 and 2, that's not just on Michael Porter, that's on me as the head coach. How do I find a way to get him going" He's so important to our team."
Jamal Murray got to his shots easily to start the ballgame, raining in 6 points against Phoenix’s drop coverage. Denver, however, couldn’t take care of the basketball with 2 turnovers that Phoenix ran out for 5 fastbreak points. Booker caught on absolute fire in the first and put up 18 points on pull-up jumpers from the midrange and two three-pointers. The Nuggets finished the first quarter ahead, 31-29.
Durant shook off a slow start by getting to the line for 8 points off free throws in the first 6 minutes of the second quarter. That helped the Suns go on a 14-2 run to build a 47-39 advantage. Durant and Booker continued to carry the Suns and put up 48 points in the first half. Behind Phoenix's 31-point quarter, the Nuggets trailed at the half, 67-52.
Denver started the second half on a 13-4 run behind 7 points from Murray. When Porter Jr. blocked Durant’s jump shot and hit a corner three, this forced a timeout from Monty Williams with his squad up just 71-65. Porter Jr. hit another three-point jumper, Gordon got a dunk, and then Murray hit a layup to make it a one-point game. Murray and Jokić intertwined for a pick-and-roll, and Murray got a layup for Denver’s first lead since the first quarter. Both teams kept it fairly close for the remainder of the quarter, with Phoenix clinging onto a 90-88 advantage heading into the fourth.
Phoenix opened the fourth quarter on a 7-0 run behind some outrageous scoring from Booker. Phoenix’s star reached the 40-point mark at the 8:30 mark in the fourth off an out-of-bounds set. His co-star, Durant, found a bit of a fourth-quarter rhythm by going 3-of-4 from the field. Though a Porter Jr. poster dunk on Durant gave the Nuggets some life, T.J. Warren nailed a corner three and a short-range jumper. Booker hit a layup through contact to ice it for the Suns, and that was that.
• Jamal Murray reached 1,000 total points in the NBA playoffs.
• Nikola Jokić became the first player to ever finish with 25+ points, 15+ rebounds, and 15+ assists in a playoff game.
• This was Jokić’s third triple-double of the postseason. The rest of the NBA has just two.
• Jokić has now reached 9 triple-doubles since 2019. That’s the most in the NBA with the next closest being Draymond Green with 6.
• Michael Porter Jr. hit a season-high 6 three-pointers.
Denver will stay in Phoenix for Game 4 on Sunday at 7 p.m. MT.