For the second straight year, the Phoenix Suns saw themselves down 30 points at halftime in an elimination game in the Western Conference semifinals on their home floor. And for the second straight year, they were eliminated from the playoffs in ugly fashion. The Denver Nuggets blew past a depleted Suns team in the first quarter and never looked back on Thursday, beating Phoenix 125-100 in Game 6. The Nuggets will play the winner of the Los Angeles Lakers-Golden State Warriors series.
Cameron Payne got the start ahead of the injured Chris Paul. He was the only one who had a good game considering the circumstances. He made seven 3s and finished with 31 points. However, he only had two assists compared to four turnovers. Kevin Durant and Devin Booker struggled early and never regained their red-hot shooting from two games ago, finishing with a combined 35 points on 12-32 shooting. Booker by himself scored 36 points in Game 4, the last Suns win.
It was an easy game for the Nuggets, scoring at will against the Suns’ soft defense. Two-time MVP Nikola Jokic had another triple-double with 32 points, 10 rebounds and 12 assists. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope had 17 points in the first quarter, ending the game with 21. Jamal Murray, who was questionable with a non-COVID illness, scored 26 points.
The Suns started decent out of the gate. Backup-turned-starter Jock Landale was energetic, and Bismack Biyombo was getting rebounds. It was a 27-26 Nuggets lead with 3:05 left in the quarter. But then the Nuggets went on a 17-0 run to finish the quarter. The Suns gave up 44 points in that quarter. In the second, it was similar, with the Nuggets scoring 37. It was an 81-51 lead for the Nuggets at halftime. In the 2022 Western Conference semifinals against the Dallas Mavericks, the Suns were also down 30 at halftime, 57-27.
The Suns were without starters Deandre Ayton and Paul. Ayton missed the game with a rib contusion he suffered in Game 5, while Paul has been out since Game 2 because of a strained left groin. Ayton had a disappointing postseason, averaging only 13.4 points and 9.7 rebounds per game. Fans harshly criticized the former No.1 pick’s lack of effort against the Nuggets, especially when a viral video showed him standing around while Jokic was grabbing offensive rebounds.
Already down depth, Phoenix’s bench again failed to produce anything significant. The Suns received just 12 points from their six players in the second unit.
Nuggets center Nikola Jokic again led the way with 32 points, 10 rebounds and 12 assists on the night. He finished with a triple-double in the final three of four games.
Jamal Murray (26 points) and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (21 points) also contributed to the massive win. The Nuggets show 53.7% from the field as a team and grabbed 41 rebounds to Phoenix’s 29.
Kevin Durant finished the night with 23 points on 8-of-19 shooting, while Devin Booker scored 12 on a 4-for-13 clip from the field and a 1-of-3 mark from beyond the arc.
Meanwhile, backup point guard Cam Payne — who started in place of the injured Chris Paul — led all Phoenix scorers with 31 points.
Payne shot an astounding 75% from the field on 12-of-16 shooting, including going a career-high 7-for-9 from three-point range. He also added two assists and six rebounds in over 41 minutes played.
The Nuggets were led by a three-headed monster of Nikola Jokic (32), Jamal Murray (26) and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (21), who combined for 79 points in the contest.
The Suns are also playing without center Deandre Ayton, who is out due to a deep rib contusion.
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