Denver Nuggets coach Michael Malone and forward Aaron Gordon said they played soft in the Game 1 loss Monday.
They talked about responding.
Being more physical. More aggressive.
Then Game 2 started and the only thing that changed from Game 1 was Phoenix didn’t wait until the third quarter to take control.
The Suns led for all but the first 30 seconds of Wednesday’s 123-98 victory before a charged and energized sellout crowd of 16,529 at Phoenix Suns Arena in taking a 2-0 series lead in this best-of-7 conference semifinals series.
“We’re just trying to play the right way for each other,” Suns coach Monty Williams said. “We try to play hard every single night. That’s who we are. That’s our DNA. Our guys share the ball. I think the thing that’s really cool to watch is guys making plays for each other. This is playoff basketball and that’s how we have to play to be successful.”
Leading by as many as 31, the Suns will look to take a 3-0 series in Friday’s Game 3 in Denver. They looked so convincing in victory Wednesday, their fans were chanting, “Suns in 4, Suns in 4!” in the fourth quarter.
“It’s hard to put into words,” Booker said about the fan reactions throughout the game. “Even Deandre (Ayton) coming to me and being like, ‘man, we seen it when it was,’ and I tell him every time, ‘I’ve seen it before you were here, also.”
That chant sounded more like a premonition to Malone.
“This was just an embarrassing performance for myself all the way to the last player,” he said. “We’re walking out of here with our heads held down, rightfully so. There’s a reason their crowd is yelling ‘Suns in 4’ and they’re calling for a sweep because if we play like this back in Denver, this is going to be a really quick series.”
The Suns won Game 2 with all five starters scoring in double figures for a second straight game as Booker scored a team-high 18 points and grabbed 10 rebounds while Chris Paul posted 17 points, 15 assists to no turnovers, and five rebounds.
NBA MVP Nikola Jokic paced Denver with 24 points as he gave the Nuggets a 2-0 lead to open the game.
It was all Suns after that.
While the Nuggets started 0-for-9 from 3 with Michael Porter Jr., tight lower back and all, going 0-for-6 from deep in the first half, Phoenix built a 10-point halftime lead with Dario Saric providing an 8-point spark off the bench.
So when the third quarter came around this time, Phoenix just continued to pour it on the Nuggets.
From Booker hitting jumpers to Jae Crowder making plays and Paul picking apart the Denver defense, the Suns had the crowd roaring louder and louder and the Nuggets reeling deeper and deeper into the realization they had no answers Wednesday night.
“I saw one team that wanted to be here and play with a purpose and urgency and one team that did not want to be here and play with no urgency and that’s why we got our a– kicked,” Malone said.
Then just like Game 1, Paul took over in the fourth in scoring eight points, hitting 2-of-2 from 3 as that injured right shoulder doesn’t look so injured anymore.
“I’m feel good, I feel really good,” Paul said. “I missed some easy ones early, but the way that we play, the ball is going to find you.”
Paul posted his third career playoff game with at least 15 points, 15 assists and zero turnovers. Only Magic Johnson and Jason Kidd have done the same as the two Hall of Famers each did it just once in the postseason dating back to 1984.
“To be named with a guy like Magic, that’s legendary,” Booker said as Paul passed Magic Johnson to become fifth on the NBA all-time assists list in the regular season. “That’s forever. That’ bigger than the game of basketball. That’s an icon.”
Denver will return home with Jokic to play before what should be a lively atmosphere for Friday’s Game 3. However, Phoenix showed in the first two games of the series this isn’t the same lopsided matchup in Denver’s favor.
The Nuggets were 6-1 in their last seven games against Phoenix coming into this series.
They’re now down 0-2, not shooting the ball well from 3 (14-of-43 from deep Wednesday) thanks in large part to the Suns defense and seemingly looked lost on defense trying to keep up with Phoenix’s ball movement, player movement in the halfcourt and its young legs in transition.
Phoenix shot 47.4 from 3, scored 44 points in the paint and 14 points in transition.
It reached a point where Saric, not known for behind-the-back passes, threw one in traffic out to an open Cam Johnson for a 3 he hit to give Phoenix a 109-78 lead with 6:05 left in the game.
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