Nikola Jokic’s 39-point prowess gives the Nuggets a 2-0 lead over the Suns – Denver Post

Nikola Jokic, 15, of the Denver Nuggets celebrates converting a shot against the Phoenix Suns during the first quarter at Ball Arena in Denver on Monday, May 1, 2023 (Photo by AAron Ontiveroz/The Denver Post)

No amount of lipstick could hide the ugliness of Game 2 on Monday night, except for the fourth quarter, which was pretty sweet for the Nuggets.

Nikola Jokic danced and dazzled with his 39 points, and Denver’s defense tightened up the Suns’ all-star group.

Together, the Nuggets dominated this second round series with an emphatic 97-87 victory over Phoenix. With a 2-0 lead, the Nuggets have several days to savor Monday’s win before game three on Friday.

Despite an awful shooting night from Jamal Murray (3-for-15 for 10 points) and an ugly night from Michael Port Jr. (2-for-7 for five points), the Nuggets survived on the strength of MVP and defense. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope came up clutching three three-pointers in the fourth quarter.

Devin Booker put up 35 points before dueling with Bruce Brown late in the game, and his frustration festering. Kevin Durant drained 24, but it took 27 shots to get there. The Suns only managed 14 points, total, in the fourth quarter.

Thanks to Jokic, the Nuggets dominated the paint 48-30. By the end of the raucous night, Ball Arena was screaming “Nugs in Four,” a tribute to the infamous Phoenix song from two seasons ago when the Suns swept Denver.

Third quarter rims melted for the Suns before they did it for the Nuggets. Chris Paul has made his way to a handful of mid-range jumpers, and Booker has made his way to the elbow on a couple of occasions as well. With little offensive action, Jokic became aggressive.

His combination of strength, balance and (moments) athleticism has kept Deandre Ayton off balance and the Nuggets with at least one source of offense. His business kept the Nuggets within a few properties even as the Suns threatened to extend it. When Murray nodded 3, he put his hands to his head in exasperation. Once he was out, Nuggets coach Michael Malone threw his arm around his star, cheering him on on a rare night. Denver finally got an easy basket in transition—Jokic dunked to Porter for the breakaway—but it all seemed like a struggle.

But Jokic seized the opening. He scored 18 of the Nuggets’ 30 points in the quarter, helping fight off Booker’s growing confidence. By the time his run was over, Phoenix had a 73-70 lead heading into the fourth.

Malone didn’t have to think twice when asked what to clean up after Denver won Game 1.

“Moving first and foremost,” he said before the game. “…the funny thing is, after that game, they were all saying they had to play faster. We gotta put our track shoes on tonight and make sure we get a comeback, a make, a miss, a turnover. Make the ball see the crowd… “Number two would be the paint. They had a 60 in our paint. Part of that was in transition, but then even in the half territory, we know Kevin Durant and Devin Booker are going to be very aggressive tonight.”

Malone wanted to turn Game 2 into a mathematical equation.

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