Chris Paul scored 14 of his 21 points in the fourth quarter and added 11 assists and six rebounds, spearheading the Suns' second-half explosion to blow past the Denver Nuggets 122-105 Monday night at Phoenix Suns Arena to take a 1-0 lead in the Western Conference Semifinals.
After falling behind by 10 points in the third quarter, Phoenix put together a 42-14 run to completely flip the game and send the home crowd into a frenzy.
Mikal Bridges ignited the outburst with his shot-making from 3-point distance and in the lane, before Paul took over with two of his signature pull-ups, an and-1 finish off the glass and a 3-pointer. A high-flying alley-oop dunk by Torrey Craig then gave the Suns a 102-84 advantage with less than nine minutes to play — and prompted arguably the biggest crowd eruption of the Suns’ playoff run so far.
Suns coach Monty Williams also credited improved defensive communication with sparking their outburst to seize control of the game. Phoenix held MVP frontrunner Nikola Jokic (22 points, nine rebounds, three assists) scoreless in the final period and to seven points on 3-of-12 shooting in the second half.
All five of Phoenix’s starters finished in double figures, led by Bridges’ 23 points, five rebounds, five assists and two steals. Deandre Ayton recorded his fifth double-double (20 points, 10 rebounds) in his first seven playoff games, while Devin Booker finished with 21 points and eight assists and Jae Cowder added 14 points and five rebounds.
Game 2 is Wednesday night at Phoenix Suns Arena.
WHAT THEY ARE SAYING:
Chris Paul on Suns fans: “This crowd is crazy. It’s crazy. To have the fans in there, the energy, there’s nothing like it. I told the guys this is why we fought so hard during the regular season to get home-court advantage. I think we truly have that with our fanbase here.”
Devin Booker on Chris Paul: “We felt that energy. We felt that passion behind it. He just made plays. Not only his scoring ability, but getting everybody else involved. That’s been the story of the season for us, following him in that regard.”
Deandre Ayton on the key to the Suns second-half run: “Running. Just running. Competing and running. That was basically it in that burst. Just competing and running and sharing the ball. One thing we do, we share the ball a lot. Keep the defense moving.”
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Mikal Bridges: 23 points, 5 rebounds, 5 assists, 2 steals, 1 block
Devin Booker: 21 points, 8 assists, 4 rebounds, 1 steal
Chris Paul: 21 points, 11 assists, 6 rebounds, 1 steal
Deandre Ayton: 20 points, 10 rebounds, 1 steal
Jae Crowder: 14 points, 5 rebounds, 1 assist
Torrey Craig: 9 points, 8 rebounds, 2 blocks
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.