Denver Nuggets 118, Phoenix Suns 125: Three takeaways

The Nuggets’ 2020-21 season came to an end after a 125-118 Game 4 loss to the Phoenix Suns at Ball Arena.

Will Barton III was the top scorer for Denver with 25 points and five boards. Chris Paul had another dominant performance to lead the Suns, putting up 37 points, seven assists, and two steals on 73.7 percent shooting.

Here are the takeaways:

A controversial decision

Midway in the third quarter, Nikola Jokić aggressively went for a loose ball against Cameron Payne and made contact with the Suns’ guard. The play was certainly a foul, and after review, the officiating staff upgraded it to a flagrant foul two - an ejection for the Nuggets’ star. It was a deflating moment for the team, which was trailing by eight at the time.

Phoenix would race out to a 16-point lead at the end of the third quarter. Although the Nuggets will rally back, cutting the deficit to just four with eight minutes left, it was too difficult of a challenge for Malone’s team to get back without its MVP.

Jokić would finish his last game of the season with 22 points, 11 boards, and four dimes in just 29 minutes and shot 52.9 percent.

A memorable rally

The Nuggets could have easily shrugged their shoulders and gave up once Jokić was ejected in the third quarter. They didn’t. It’s a testament to the team’s DNA and locker room culture.

Denver would go on a 11-4 run to start the fourth quarter. Michael Porter Jr. and Facundo Campazzo were the catalysts of that run. Porter Jr. sent a message early on as he had an emphatic swat on former teammate Torrey Craig at the start of the fourth quarter.

Although the team would ultimately suffer a eight-point defeat, the final score doesn’t reflect the efforts of a shorthanded Nuggets team that kept fighting until the final buzzer. Porter Jr. would score 13 of his final tally in the second half. Campazzo finished the night with 14 points. 

Monte Morris also shined in his first playoffs start this season, finishing with 19 points and six assists.

Reflecting on this season

This isn’t the way the Nuggets wanted their season to end, but there is still plenty of reasons Nuggets fans can be proud of this campaign.

Despite dealing with a condensed schedule, injuries and COVID-19, the Nuggets managed to finish third in the West with 47 victories and won 65.3 percent of their games. They also defied odds by edging a healthy Trail Blazers team in the first round – a team that many media outlets favored to win that series. The shortened offseason and condensed schedule impacted the final four teams (Heat, Celtics, Lakers, Nuggets) of last year’s playoffs. The Nuggets went the furthest out of those teams.

More importantly, Denver has a chance to build on two impressive seasons heading into the 2021-22 campaign. The team has several young players entering their primes in Jokić, Aaron Gordon, and Monte Morris. There is also the tantalizing potential of Michael Porter Jr., who will be entering his third playing season in the NBA. Then Jamal Murray’s return in the second half of the season could see this team return to what it looked like in early April before the lead guard’s injury.

Combined with potential moves in the NBA Draft and Free Agency, the Nuggets look poised to continue their upward trajectory. Stay tuned.