Headline

Suns Overcome Road Crowd, Beat Nuggets to Take 3-0 Series Lead

OVERVIEW:

DENVER — The Phoenix Suns used another second-half push and a stingy defensive effort to top the Denver Nuggets 116-102 Friday night at Ball Arena and take a commanding 3-0 lead in the Western Conference Semifinals.

The Suns outscored the Nuggets 31-21 in the third quarter as part of an 18-6 run that extended an eight-point advantage to 96-76 early in the final period.

Chris Paul was again the orchestrator of the outburst, scoring 16 of his 27 points in the second half on a heavy dose of signature midrange jumpers and adding eight assists, six rebounds and three steals. Devin Booker added 28 points, six rebounds and four assists. Deandre Ayton recorded his seventh double-double in nine playoff games, finishing with 10 points and 15 rebounds.

Nikola Jokic totaled 32 points (on 29 shot attempts), 20 rebounds and 10 assists on the night he received his NBA Most Valuable Player trophy. But the Suns’ defense held the Nuggets under 40 percent shooting for much of the night, and forced 14 turnovers they turned into 20 points.

This was the Suns’ sixth consecutive playoff win, tying a franchise record.

Phoenix will go for the series sweep Sunday night at Ball Arena.

HIGHLIGHTS:

WHAT THEY ARE SAYING:

Monty Williams on the second half: “The defensive side of the ball has been tremendous. The third quarter, holding them to 21 points, I thought that gave us a lot of confidence. The guys are just making plays for each other, playing with a great deal of energy and force.”

Chris Paul on the win: "It’s satisfying. We knew this was going to be an emotional game for them, with Joker being presented the MVP trophy before the game. We just kept talking about trying to withstand their runs. … We’re so prepared, man, going into every game. And I think the dopest part about it is to see the progression of it.”

Devin Booker on the Suns’ play through the series: “When things get tough, we come together even more. Just little things like that, that we’ve worked on through the regular season, that we talked about through the regular season is coming through right now. We’re still sticking with it. We still have a close-out game Sunday that we’re looking forward to. We have our eyes on the prize and we keep going.”

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KEY PERFORMERS:

Devin Booker: 28 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists, 1 steal

Chris Paul: 27 points, 8 assists, 6 rebounds, 3 steals

Jae Crowder: 14 points, 4 assists, 3 rebounds

Mikal Bridges: 11 points, 2 rebounds, 3 steals

Deandre Ayton: 10 points, 15 rebounds, 2 assists

Cameron Payne: 9 points, 3 assists, , 1 rebounds, 2 steals

ICYMI:

RIGHT PLACE, RIGHT TIME

Torrey Craig's versatility and hustle are on display in Suns' playoff series against his former team

Craig is a versatile defender and willing rebounder on both ends. He will dive for 50/50 balls and flash his athleticism via deflections and blocks. He has gotten more offensive opportunities with the Suns as an outside shooter and authoritative finisher off cuts and in transition. Now, Craig is showcasing all of those attributes during a playoff series against his former team while providing a jolt to the Suns’ championship aspirations.

‘THERE’S NOTHING LIKE IT’

How the Phoenix Suns have created arguably the NBA’s best home-court advantage during the 2021 NBA Playoffs

That electric crowd is goosebumps-inducing in person and takes television viewers aback, prompting local pride and national attention. It has been praised by young Suns experiencing the postseason for the first time and veterans who have been through countless playoff games alike. That’s why it’s reasonable to wonder if — or conclude that — the Suns have quickly created the NBA’s best home-court advantage during these playoffs.

RELENTLESS

How the Suns’ full-throttle mentality propelled them to Western Conference Semifinals

The formal definition of the word “relentless” is “oppressively constant; incessant.” That descriptor has followed the Suns throughout this season, applying to their on-court style of play and their everyday habits while navigating this unique season. Knocking off the defending-champion Los Angeles Lakers in the playoffs’ first round required a relentless approach, which now carries the Suns into the Western Conference Semifinals against the Denver Nuggets.

“It’s just how the guys are built, individually and as a collective group,” Booker said. “If you go down the list of all the players, there’s nobody that’s scared of the moment. There’s nobody that hasn’t prepared for this moment. This isn’t new. This is how we’ve been playing for most of the season. We’ve had ups and downs, but we’re a confident team and we play hard all the way through.”

TEAM-FIRST MENTALITY

General manager James Jones is using his championship pedigree to construct a Suns roster on the rise

Now in his third season as general manager of the Phoenix Suns, James Jones has taken his knowledge of what it takes to win a ring and is building a roster of like-minded players with high-IQs, unselfish personalities and relentless attitudes both on the court and behind the scenes. The result is Phoenix’s dramatic rise over the past two seasons. The Suns went 51-21 during the 2020-21 regular season, finished second in a loaded Western Conference and enters Tuesday with the opportunity to take a 3-2 lead in their first-round playoff series against the defending-champion Los Angeles Lakers.

PLAYOFF PAYNE

Thanks to a fresh start with the Suns, Cameron Payne is proving he belongs

Cameron Payne plays with a fiery passion that somehow looks both free and furious, prompting some to compare him to the “haboob” dust storms that disrupt the Valley air during the summer monsoon season. It’s a fitting style for Payne, a former lottery draft pick who had his NBA career stripped away in early 2019 and is now savoring his shot on a Suns team with championship aspirations.

ROAD SUPPORT

Fans from all walks of life travel to enemy territory to support the Suns in return to NBA Playoffs

“To be on the road and have your fans cheering for you, especially when you make a run, is pretty cool," head coach Monty Williams said. "We’re thankful, grateful and we’re fighting our tails off to make those fans that we have in this environment have something to cheer for.”

Whether traveling from Phoenix or different parts of California, Suns.com gathered personal stories from six Suns fans making the trip and cheer on their favorite team.

LIVING UP TO THE MOMENT

The young Suns proved themselves under the bright lights, stepping up & executing in their playoff debuts

Devin Booker, Deandre Ayton, Mikal Bridges and Cameron Johnson showed consistent effort all season, preparing them for the bright lights. They lived up to the moment in Game 1 and, in some cases, churned out historic stat lines — even during an intense game complete with the magnitude of the franchise’s first playoff game since 2010, a jarring injury to their Hall of Fame point guard and a scuffle that resulted in a teammate being ejected.

MONTY'S MANTRAS

A frontrunner for NBA Coach of the Year, Williams’ immense impact on these Suns is woven throughout his motivational catchphrases, and how they resonate with his players.

There are enough “Montyisms” for Monty Williams to write a compilation book — which Devin Booker has publicly and privately suggested to his coach. Even while repeating them to players, Cam Johnson said, Williams will preface by acknowledging some might call them “corny” or “goofy” or “coach speak.” Yet Johnson says those mantras are “big-time anchors” that have kept the Suns emotionally centered during the franchise’s emphatic rise to the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference. They create personal connections with players by instilling belief and relaying constructive advice. They provide reminders that resurface in the head and heart when one least expects it, and can apply to both basketball and life.

RALLY THE VALLEY

Here's how Suns supporters have celebrated this resurgent season and return to the playoffs.

Suns.com gathered personal stories from 13 people connected to the organization. Some are longtime fans, and others are long-time employees in behind-the-scenes roles. Some are community partners who work with the Suns to make residents’ lives a little brighter. Some are natives, and some have returned home.

TOGETHER

How these Suns have created a team spirit that threads the needle between intensely competitive and endearingly fun-loving.

“You look around the league at some teams, and not everybody has a vibe like this or an energy like this throughout,” Booker said. “I always say it’s a great environment to get better in. When you have everybody supporting you, everybody being honest with you — those are the same people that can give me constructive criticism at any point in the game, and I’m listening to them — that’s the name of our group, man.”

Culture, chemistry and overall spirit are intangible qualities that cannot be measured by traditional stats or advanced analytics. But players and coaches know it — feel it — when those attributes have manifested within a team.

UNCANNY PARALLELS CONNECT FOUR PHOENIX ICONS

Chris Paul’s impact in The Valley has rejuvenated Suns basketball with an MVP-caliber season

Through his team’s journey to out-perform external expectations, his league’s-most-efficient playmaking and the leadership and passion he’s provided to the organization, Paul has entered the NBA Most Valuable Player conversation. And while making Paul’s case, one can draw parallels to the other Phoenix basketball icons who have won the award: Charles Barkley, Steve Nash and Diana Taurasi.

WE'RE BACK!

Phoenix Suns clinch playoffs, another step in franchise's resurgence.

The Suns’ full playoff berth is the latest benchmark in a historic turnaround. In less than two seasons, the Suns have transformed from a team that tied for the NBA’s second-worst record to one that currently possesses the league’s second-best record. Should that standing hold, the Suns would become just the third team since the NBA-ABA merger that jumped from bottom-two to top-two in two seasons or less, joining the Boston Celtics in 1979-80 and 2007-08.

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