Game 2 Preview: Denver Nuggets look to bounce back vs. Suns

by Eric Spyropoulos
Staff Writer
@EricSpyrosNBA

It would be hard to ask for a better opening half to this Western Conference semifinals series between the Denver Nuggets and Phoenix Suns than the one that took place Monday night in Game 1.

Monday’s opening game was a back-and-forth affair for the first 30 minutes or so, as the Nuggets withstood repeated punches from the Suns to build a 10-point lead early in the third quarter.

Nikola Jokić was producing at his usual level, Facundo Campazzo was active on both ends, and Denver’s supporting cast made timely plays to maintain the lead. However, a 16-0 run late in the third quarter gave Phoenix control of the game, which was never let go of the remainder of the night.

MORE: Takeaways from Game 1 loss

Chris Paul (21 points and 11 assists) took over in the fourth quarter, scoring 14 points to put the game to bed. Meanwhile, Mikal Bridges led the scoring effort with 23 points on 8-of-12 shooting from the field.

In the end, Phoenix was more efficient offensively, got to the free-throw line more often, and took advantage of Denver’s mistakes. Now it’s up to the Nuggets to respond in Game 2 Wednesday night.

Projected starters: Facundo Campazzo, Austin Rivers, Michael Porter Jr., Aaron Gordon, Nikola Jokić

Injury report:

JAMAL MURRAY – LEFT ACL SURGERY. OUT.

P.J. DOZIER – RIGHT ADDUCTOR STRAIN. OUT.

WILL BARTON III – RIGHT HAMSTRING STRAIN. DOUBTFUL.

MICHAEL PORTER JR. – LOW BACK TIGHTNESS. QUESTIONABLE.

TUNE-IN: 7:30 p.m. MT, TNT and 92.5FM

Key matchup: Facundo Campazzo vs. Chris Paul

Through three quarters, Denver had done a solid job keeping Paul in check. Although the “Point God” provided his usual blend of solid defense and steady playmaking, he had also only scored seven points, which Campazzo was able to keep pace with.

To his credit, Campazzo was active early looking for his shot, which opened some additional passing lanes for the Argentinian guard. Denver’s 30-year-old rookie finished with 14 points and six assists on 5-of-9 shooting from the field.

However, any hopes of a Nuggets comeback were squashed by Paul in the opening minutes of the fourth quarter. Paul got to his comfort spots in the mid-range, dished out a couple of assists, and hit a 3-pointer after Paul Millsap switched onto him on the perimeter. It was a clinic put on by the future Hall-of-Famer. Denver will have to continue presenting Paul with different defensive coverages in the pick-and-roll moving forward.

Take care of the ball

In Game 1, it wasn’t necessarily about the total number of turnovers that the Nuggets committed, but rather what happened because of those mistakes.

Denver finished with 12 turnovers Monday night, which led directly to 18 points for the Suns. Phoenix committed 10 turnovers, but the Nuggets were only able to score 12 points off those turnovers.

Another key aspect of the turnover battle was Denver’s struggles getting back in transition, especially in the second half. The Suns finished with 13 fast-break points in Game 1 compared to seven for the Nuggets.

According to Cleaning the Glass, 16.9 percent of Phoenix’s possessions began with a transition play Monday night, compared to 11.2 percent for Denver. The Suns added 4.7 points per 100 possessions through those transition plays.

Continue to attack the basket

In Game 1, Denver got to the basket early and often.

The Nuggets finished with 33 shots within four feet of the rim during the non-garbage time minutes, which represented 39 percent of the team’s overall shot attempts. That number is compared to just 20 shot attempts at the rim for Phoenix, who operated more in the mid-range.

Although Denver only shot 54.5 percent on these attempts and ended up with just six free-throws, the Nuggets will need to continue to attack downhill to draw fouls and open drive-and-kick opportunities.

One way to open driving lanes and rim attempts will be by running Jokić through more off-ball actions and screens, which will force Deandre Ayton to fight around or through screens set by Denver’s perimeter players, thus drawing him out of position to defend the basket.

Additionally, the Nuggets can look to run more inverted pick-and-rolls with Jokić handling the ball and guards or forwards (like Aaron Gordon), setting the screen to then roll to the rim or pop out to the 3-point line.

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