The crowd inside Phoenix Suns Arena has been lauded for its rowdy intensity throughout the 2021 NBA Playoffs. But as Chris Paul put defenders on skates and buried 3-pointers and the Suns turned stifling defense into bucket after bucket during another second-half outburst, the atmosphere turned into a party.
Suns players such as Torrey Craig could not even resist glancing up at the video board when cheers erupted as a young fan showed off some crazy dance moves before enthusiastically removing his shirt.
“This is wild,” Craig recalls saying in the moment.
There was plenty to celebrate, as the Suns used another massive second half to roll the Denver Nuggets 123-98 Wednesday night to take a 2-0 lead in the Western Conference Semifinals.
Phoenix outscored Denver 71-56 after the break to extend its advantage from 10 points to 31 points. The Suns quickly opened the third quarter on a 10-1 run that took less than two minutes off the game clock, highlighted by two 3-pointers from Jae Crowder. Phoenix went 12-of-23 from 3-point range in the second half and out-rebounded the Nuggets 26-19, leading to 11 second-chance points.
All five Suns starters finished in double figures for the second consecutive game in the series, anchored by Paul’s 17 points, 15 assists and zero turnovers. He became just the second player in Suns postseason history to total at least 15 assists and zero turnovers in a postseason game (Jason Kidd in 2001), and the first NBA player since at least 1984 to record at least 15 points, 15 assists and zero turnovers in three career postseason games.
Deandre Ayton overcame two fouls in the game’s first five minutes to finish with 15 points on 6-of-10 shooting and 10 rebounds, while Devin Booker totaled 18 points and 10 assists. Paul, Ayton Booker became the first trio of Suns teammates to record double-doubles in the same playoff game since 2007.
The Suns also held the Nuggets, who ranked sixth in offensive efficiency during the regular season, to under 40 percent shooting until the game was out of reach.
Game 3 is Friday night in Denver.
WHAT THEY ARE SAYING:
Torrey Craig: “It feels good. We came out and did what we’re supposed to do. Got home court for a reason and trying to protect it the best we can and take advantage of it.”
Chris Paul on the fans: “Man, it’s crazy. It got loud, then it got a little louder, then it got crazy. I remember covering my ears and Coach was like, ‘Chris, get back in the huddle.’ It just shows you how important the fans are to the game… There’s nothing like having the fans at the games and their energy.”
Jae Crowder on everyone contributing: “It makes the task that much more difficult for our opponent when everybody is rolling and everybody is involved… We have trust in each other. We work on it. We talk about it. We watch film on it. We’re trying to make everybody a threat on the court. Once we play like that, it’s really tough to slow us down. We did a good job tonight just sharing the ball early, finding the right shots and finding good looks. We definitely believe in one another.”
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Devin Booker: 18 points, 10 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 steal
Chris Paul: 17 points, 15 assists, 5 rebounds, 1 block, 0 turnovers
Deandre Ayton: 15 points, 10 rebounds
Mikal Bridges: 16 points, 2 rebounds
Jae Crowder: 11 points, 5 rebounds, 1 steal, 1 block
Torrey Craig: 10 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 block
‘THERE’S NOTHING LIKE IT’
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.
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.”
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.
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.
“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
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.
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
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.
“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.