Game 2 between the Phoenix Suns and Denver Nuggets was an eventful one for the visiting team. After going down 0-1 in the series, Denver star Nicola Jokic was named MVP of the league. Denver received more news worth celebrating with the return of Will Barton, who played his first game since April 23 Wednesday. Barton had missed the previous six weeks with a hamstring injury. However, the Suns seemed unbothered by the aforementioned events, and their Game 2 performance proved it.
Fiery competition early
The energy from Game 1 carried over to Game 2. With Denver trailing by 6, Jokic dumped it off to a cutting Barton for a two-hand jam. Barton drained a three-pointer the very next play to make it 22-21 in favor of the Suns. After an opening quarter defined by hardnosed defense, the Suns extended their lead to 25-21 to close out the period.
Minutes into the second quarter, the Suns seized control after Chris Paul kicked to an open Dario Saric for three. The bucket put the Suns ahead by 10 and forced a Denver timeout. Denver responded with a 7-to-2 run out of the break, however, over an extended period. Yet, the Suns still took a 52-42 lead into the half.
Despite a forgettable shooting performance that led to Denver’s lowest-scoring half of the playoffs, Jokic put up 15 points in the first half on 6 of 10 shooting. The Suns’ Devin Booker led his team with 13 points at the break.
Suns heat up
The second half kicked off with a 13 to 4 Suns run to give themselves a 19-point cushion. Naturally, things began to get chippy, with the Suns’ Jae Crowder getting into a heated exchange with Denver’s Aaron Gordon.
After falling behind by 21, Denver found a spark on offense, draining back-to-back triples to come within 15. However, the push would be short-lived. A three from Booker followed by a tomahawk throwdown by Mikal Bridges sent a message that the Suns were not looking to take their foot off the gas.
In the fourth, their message remained the same. The Suns’ defensive intensity picked up as they smelled blood, and Denver struggled to answer. Paul used this time to put on a show on the offensive end, dancing around defenders, scoring, and dishing for easy finishes around the rim. The Suns pushed their lead to 27 when Paul drained back-to-back shots from long distance.
After the Suns took their largest lead of the night at 31, both teams emptied their benches for the final 6 minutes of the game. The Suns went on to take a convincing 123-98 win over Denver to go up 2-0 in the best of 7 series.
“It was one of our better defensive halves of the year against a good offensive team,” Suns coach Monty Williams said about the second half. “We were relentless with our effort, our communication, and coverages.”
A collective effort
The Suns displayed great balance, with six players scoring in double figures and three more scoring at least 7 points. Paul made sure everybody ate, dishing 15 dimes to go with 17 points. It was the third time in his playoff career that he tallied at least 15 points and 15 assists without committing a turnover. The offense clearly ran through Paul, as he racked up over half the team’s total assists for the game. Booker added 18 points and 10 rebounds for the Suns, while DeAndre Ayton put up 15 and 10.
Jokic scored 24 points to go with 13 rebounds, but Denver struggled to find consistent scoring elsewhere. Despite shooting just 3 for 13 from the field, Michael Porter, Jr. – struggling with back stiffness – was the only other starter to score in double figures with 11 points. Barton and Paul Millsap came off the bench to add 10 and 11 points, respectively.
“This was an embarrassing performance for myself all the way to the last player,” Denver coach Michael Malone said. “We are walking out here with our heads held down and rightfully so. There was a reason that their crowd was yelling, “Suns in four!” and they are calling for a sweep because if we play like this in Denver, this is going to be a really quick series.”
Game 3 will take place in Denver as the Nuggets look to avoid falling 3-0 Friday night at 7:00 pm PST.