The Denver Nuggets and Phoenix Suns each managed 82 first-half points in Monday’s Game 2 start of the Western Conference semifinals.
But Nikola Jokic and Devin Booker caught fire in the third quarter before the Nuggets rallied to win 97-87 to take a 2-0 lead. To make matters worse, they lost starting point guard Chris Paul to a groin injury.
Paul was injured with about five minutes left in the third quarter while battling for a rebound with Denver’s Kentavious Caldwell Pope. He immediately grabbed the left thigh after the jump and was slow to join his teammates in the frontcourt on the Suns’ ensuing possession.
He left for the locker room on the next stoppage in play with 4:32 remaining. The Suns announced in the fourth quarter that he would not return due to Left thigh tightness.
Meanwhile, Denver closed the gap. Phoenix led 59-51 at the time of Paul’s injury. But Jokic scored 18 of Denver’s 31 points in the third quarter as the Nuggets cut their deficit to 73-70 by the end of the quarter. He traded buckets with Booker as the All-Stars combined to get the last 16 points of the segment.
Jokic scored eight more points in the fourth as the Nuggets pulled ahead and pulled away from the stretch, finishing with 39 points, 16 rebounds and 5 assists. Phoenix — already shooting poorly — struggled off the field as Denver finished with a score of 27-14 in the fourth quarter.
Denver overcame a poor offensive showing from Jamal Murray, who finished with 10 points and 8 assists while shooting 3-of-15 from the field. He missed all nine of his 3-point attempts. But Caldwell Pope picked up the slack with an effective 14-point effort while shooting 5-of-6 from the field all hitting all four of his 3-point attempts. He hit back-to-back three-pointers in an early fourth-quarter sequence that saw the Nuggets tie the game and then take a 76-73 lead.
Meanwhile, the Suns struggled to find offense off Booker, who finished with 35 points, 6 assists, and 5 rebounds while shooting 14-of-29 from the field. Kevin Durant scored 24 points, but required 10 of 27 shooting nights to get there. He only hit 2 out of 12 three point attempts. Deandre Ayton was the only other Phoenix player in the double digits with 14.
As a team, the Suns shot 40% from the field and 19.4% (6-of-31) from 3-point distance. They repeatedly fouled short corner 3s. The depth of the winger who was traded away to get Durant from the Brooklyn Nets mid-season was sorely lacking. Josh Okoje, Cameron Payne, Torey Craig and Damion Lee combined for six points while shooting 2-of-17 from the field. They combined to lose all 11 of their 3-point attempts.
And now the Suns are already deep headed in Game 3 with an 0-2 hole and their starting point guard status is in question.