Chris Paul, Phoenix dominate second half in Game 1 win over Denver
The Suns defended their home floor in Game 1 against the Nuggets
Game 1 between the Phoenix Suns and the Denver Nuggets was truly a tale of two halves. The teams played as competitive of a first half as any fan could have asked for but, then, Chris Paul and the Suns took control during the third quarter and never looked back as they came away with a 122-105 win.
All five of Phoenix’s starters scored in double figures, with four eclipsing the 20-point plateau, on their way to victory. Paul was fantastic, finishing the win with 21 points, 11 assists and six rebounds. He had plenty of help though as Devin Booker, Mikal Bridges and Deandre Ayton combined for 64 points, 19 rebounds and 13 assists to help contribute to the Suns’ Game 1 win. On the other side, Nikola Jokic led the Nuggets with 22 points and nine rebounds but, in the end, his performance wasn’t enough to keep this game competitive down the stretch.
These two teams will meet again on Wednesday night as the opening tip of Game 2 is scheduled for 9:30 p.m. ET with TNT handling the broadcast.
Here are the three biggest takeaways from Phoenix’s Game 1 win.
1. He’s back
Yes, Chris Paul looked great in Game 4 of Phoenix’s first-round series against the Lakers, but his next two games were discouraging. He scored only 17 combined points on 33.3 percent shooting as the Suns closed out the Lakers, so there was no telling how he’d handle a more difficult test against a healthier Suns team. After scoring only five first-half points, it looked like his shoulder was still at considerably less than 100 percent.
Well, the second half should clear up any concerns. Chris Paul is healthy. He scored 14 points in the fourth quarter alone, showing off his typical mid-range mastery after continuously managing to find the matchup he wanted (either Michael Porter Jr. or a big man) through pick-and-roll switch-hunting. He fired high-velocity passes all over the court and even looked faster than he did in the Lakers series. This was the version of Paul that the Suns traded for, the one that helped turn them into this sort of contender in the first place. Now that Phoenix has Paul back at his best, their championship odds should be rising by the day.
2. Depth is the difference
Let’s be honest about where Denver is right now. Three of its top five guards are out and one of those three players, Jamal Murray, is a star. The Nuggets have better bench players than most, but it’s telling that they can lose a game by 17 points while one of their starters, Aaron Gordon, has a positive plus-minus for the game at plus-2. Austin Rivers was a net neutral.
Of course, that doesn’t mean much when Monte Morris is minus-28. That’s nothing against Morris, who was stellar in the Portland series. Denver is just so depleted right now that when it goes to its bench units, it is operating at such a talent deficiency that keeping up with a team like the Suns is nearly impossible.
Look at Phoenix’s box score. The Suns scored 122 points without a single player making 10 field goals. Four of its five starters scored between 20 and 23 points. All four reserves who played more than token minutes had positive point differentials. Cameron Payne has been a starting-caliber point guard this postseason and the Suns signed him for the minimum. Milwaukee released Torrey Craig in the middle of the season, but the Suns are getting useful minutes out of him. They’ve done such a good job rounding out their bench that they probably could sustain an injury or two. Denver has had so many of them that they’re at a severe disadvantage here.
3. Ayton’s ascent
There was an argument to be made entering this series that conditioning would be Deandre Ayton’s greatest weakness against Denver. He played only around 30 minutes per game during the regular season, and considering the talent around him, those weren’t always particularly strenuous minutes. Guarding Nikola Jokic is another matter entirely, and Jokic regularly plays 40 or more minutes in the postseason. Phoenix can’t afford not to scale Ayton up to match him. Frank Kaminsky and Dario Saric are just not equipped to defend Jokic whatsoever.
Yet by the second half of this game, it was Jokic who looked fatigued, not Ayton. Phoenix’s center held the presumptive MVP to only 22 points on only 10-of-23 shooting despite a 5-of-6 start from the field. Jokic feasts on the mismatches smaller teams tend to present him with. He can’t be doubled in the post because of his passing, but nontraditional centers aren’t big enough to stop him from scoring. Ayton is, though, and he largely handled Jokic well enough to prevent him from picking the Suns apart as a passer.
It was an encouraging start to his second postseason series after he thrived in Phoenix’s first against the Lakers. The timing of this jump couldn’t be better for Ayton. He’s extension-eligible after the season, and if there was any doubt coming into the postseason, it now seems clear that the Suns will give him a max extension as a reward for his excellent season.
Christopher Emmanuel Paul (born May 6, 1985), nicknamed “CP3”, is an American professional basketball player for the Phoenix Suns of the National Basketball Association (NBA). Playing the point guard position, he has won the NBA Rookie of the Year Award, an NBA All-Star Game Most Valuable Player Award, two Olympic gold medals, and led the NBA in assists four times and steals a record six times. He has also been selected to eleven NBA All-Star teams, nine All-NBA teams, and nine NBA All-Defensive teams.
Paul was a McDonald’s All-American in high school before attending Wake Forest University for two years of college basketball, where he helped the Demon Deacons achieve their first-ever number-one ranking. He was selected fourth overall in the 2005 NBA draft by the New Orleans Hornets, where he developed into one of the league’s premier players, finishing second in NBA Most Valuable Player Award voting in 2008. During the 2011 off-season, the Hornets organized a deal to send Paul to the Los Angeles Lakers, but the transaction was controversially voided by the NBA. He was instead dealt to the Los Angeles Clippers later that year. Led by Paul’s playmaking, the Clippers developed a reputation for their fast-paced offense and spectacular alley-oop dunks, earning them the nickname “Lob City”. In 2017, he was traded to the Houston Rockets and helped the team win a franchise-record 65 games in his debut season there. He played one more season in Houston before being traded to the Oklahoma City Thunder as part of a package for Russell Westbrook on July 16, 2019. Paul’s only season in Oklahoma City earned him his 10th All-Star appearance. With the Thunder looking to rebuild, he was traded to the Phoenix Suns on November 16, 2020.
Paul has served as the president of the National Basketball Players Association since August 2013. Among the highest-paid athletes in the world, he holds endorsement deals with companies such as Air Jordan and State Farm.
Chris Paul unleashes in 4th of Suns’ Game 1 win over Nuggets
He looked apprehensive about shooting very open threes.
His teammates didn’t look for him often on Monday at Phoenix Suns Arena.
But the Phoenix Suns point guard must have used some adrenaline to his advantage, as he scored 14 fourth-quarter points in a 122-105 victory over Denver in Game 1 of the teams’ second-round series.
Paul entered the fourth quarter with seven points on 2-of-8 shooting as Phoenix led 88-79. From there, he went nuts.
The point guard hit all six of his shots from the field in the fourth and along with three assists accounted for 20 of the Suns’ 34 fourth-quarter points.
“Chris has been in those moments so many times,” Suns head coach Monty Williams said. “I don’t think not making shots is going to rattle him. I think he’s more concerned trying to manage the game than he is his shooting percentage.”
Whether it was from three, mid-range or in attacking Denver’s interior, Paul appeared just fine four days after he reinjured a stinger in his right shoulder to close out the Los Angeles Lakers in Game 6 of the first round.
Paul got plenty of help in the blowout.
Deandre Ayton added 20 points and 10 boards, Devin Booker scored 21 as well and wing Mikal Bridges led the Suns with 23 points.
Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker (1) and guard Cameron Payne (15) celebrate a three pointer during Game 1 of an NBA basketball second-round playoff series against the Denver Nuggets, Monday, June 7, 2021, in Phoenix.
Game 1 Final: Suns indeed cooked the Nuggets, 122-105
The Phoenix Suns have taken a 1-0 series lead over the Denver Nuggets in the second round of the NBA playoffs.