Nuggets blow past Suns 125-100, advance to Western Conference finals
PHOENIX (AP) — Two years ago, the Denver Nuggets were embarrassed by the Phoenix Suns in a postseason sweep.
This time, it was the Nuggets who dished out the embarrassment.
Nikola Jokic scored 32 points in another triple-double, Jamal Murray added 26 and the Nuggets advanced to the Western Conference finals for the first time since 2020 by beating the short-handed Suns 125-100 in Game 6 on Thursday night.
“When we defend, when we rebound, when we run, when we share the ball, we believe we're the best team in the NBA,” Denver coach Michael Malone said. “And tonight, we showed it.”
The Nuggets will play in the conference finals for the first time since they lost to the Lakers in five games in the Florida bubble during the COVID-19 pandemic. They have never reached the NBA Finals.
The top-seeded Nuggets used a 23-2 run during the latter part of the first quarter to take a 44-26 lead and never looked back. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope — averaging 9.5 points in the playoffs — scored 17 in the first quarter while Jokic added 14.
“We were the aggressors the whole game,” Jokic said. “Especially the first half. We were just really good.”
Caldwell-Pope finished with 21 points. Jokic shot 13 of 18 from the field and added 12 assists and 10 rebounds. It was his fourth triple-double of the postseason in 11 games.
“He shows (his greatness) every night,” Murray said.
Denver's offensive onslaught continued in the second as the lead grew to 81-51 by halftime, leading to boos from Suns fans as players made their way to the locker room. The second half was essentially an afterthought.
“It was deflating to see them score like that and running down the floor getting easy buckets,” Suns coach Monty Williams said. “That falls on my shoulders not having us ready to play at the highest level in the biggest game of the year.”
Cameron Payne scored 31 points for Phoenix, hitting 7 of 9 3-pointers. Kevin Durant added 23.
The Suns were playing without injured starters Deandre Ayton and Chris Paul. Ayton sustained a rib contusion in Tuesday’s Game 5 while Paul has been out the past four games with a strained left groin.
Phoenix was eliminated in the Western Conference semifinals in a blowout at home for a second straight season despite a blockbuster trade deadline deal for Durant, a 13-time All-Star and one of the game's most prolific scorers. The 34-year-old had some good moments in the playoffs, but made just 1 of his first 10 shots on Thursday as the Suns fell into a huge hole.
“It was a bad feeling,” Durant said. “It was embarrassing. They came out and got us in the mouth and we couldn't recover.”
Suns guard Devin Booker was brilliant in most of the postseason, averaging 36 points per game on 60% before Game 6. But the three-time All-Star finished with just 12 points on Thursday.
The home team won the first five games of the series until the Nuggets broke through in Game 6.
Denver's Murray was listed as questionable before the game with a non-COVID illness, but played well. Murray got a big hug from Malone as he checked out of the game for the final time. The point guard said he slept most of the day until the game.
For the Suns, the loss was eerily similar to Game 7 of last year's Western Conference semifinals.
Phoenix, with the NBA's best record, fell behind Dallas by 30 points by halftime and ended up losing 123-90 to end its season.
“I wish it would have been at least closer," Payne said. “Of course, I want to win, but this just doesn't look good.”
In the shot clock era, the home team has trailed by 30-plus points in a potential playoff elimination game just three times. Phoenix is now responsible for two of them. The other was the Bucks in 2015.
Suns: Jock Landale finished with 13 points and five rebounds, starting in place of Ayton. ... Hosted their 80th consecutive sellout crowd, counting regular season and postseason games. ... The Suns have never won a title since coming into the league in 1968. ... Suns broadcaster Al McCoy called his final game for the franchise. The 90-year-old is retiring after 51 seasons on the microphone.
Rolling with Jokic-Murray combo, Nuggets prepare for Western Conference finals
PHOENIX (AP) — Denver Nuggets coach Michael Malone said it was around December when he thought this could be a championship-caliber team.
Jamal Murray was a believer even sooner. Like in 2019.
“When we're healthy, we know what we can do,” Denver's point guard said. “We just need everyone on the court. We've always had the potential.”
After watching the Nuggets steamroll the Suns in Game 6 to clinch the Western Conference semifinals, it's hard to argue with him.
Nikola Jokic scored 32 points and finished with a triple-double, Murray added 26 and the Nuggets are off to the Western Conference finals for the first time since 2020 after beating the Phoenix Suns 125-100 in Game 6 to clinch the series. Denver has never made the NBA Finals.
The top-seeded Nuggets will play the winner of the Lakers-Warriors series. The Lakers have a 3-2 lead.
No matter who advances in the other series, the Nuggets will likely get less press than their opponent. The Lakers have LeBron James and Anthony Davis. The Warriors have Steph Curry.
“You can sit there and fight it and complain, or you can embrace who we are and what we have,” Malone said. “I'd rather not waste time with all the pundits who count us out or don't give us the respect that we deserve as a team.”
Malone said the Nuggets' critics have one valid argument.
“There's one thing we haven't done,” Malone said. "Until we win a championship, people are going to keep saying (negative things) about us. So that's what drives us, winning a championship. Getting to the Western Conference finals doesn't do it. Getting to the Finals doesn't do it.
“It's winning a championship.”
The Nuggets — led by the Jokic-Murray combo — look as thought they have the chops to pull it off.
Jokic has already had four triple-doubles this postseason in 11 games, contributing 32 points, 12 assists and 10 rebounds in Game 6. Murray is back to playing at an elite level following his ACL injury. The team also has excellent role players in Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Aaron Gordon and Michael Porter Jr.
That depth was something the Suns simply couldn't match, particularly after Chris Paul and Deandre Ayton went down with injuries.
The Nuggets took full advantage.
“When you play against a team with their backs against the wall, facing elimination, you just can’t show up and think you can just arrive for this game,” Malone said. “We did not want to be counter punchers. We wanted to go out and strike first."
Now the Nuggets have a few days to enjoy some well-earned rest while the Lakers and Warriors conclude their series.
Denver is four wins away from playing in the first NBA Finals in franchise history. The last time the Nuggets advanced to the Western Conference finals, they lost to the Lakers in 2020 in the Florida bubble.
But the Jokic-Murray combo keeps getting better and they're looking for a different outcome this time around.
“The last five years, we've improved every year,” Jokic said. “We're making something new. It's just amazing to be a part of this journey around these games. I think we can do something nice.”