By Daniel Paiz
Denver takes care of business at home in Game 1 of the Western Conference Semis, as the Nuggets overheat Suns 125-107 at Ball Arena. Jamal Murray added another gem to his playoff showcase, going off for 34 points and 9 assists. Two-time MVP Nikola Jokic threw in 24 points, 19 rebounds and 5 assists, while Aaron Gordon had 23 points and Bruce Brown contributed 14 points off the bench. Denver was clearly eager and ready to get things moving in Game 1, and the usual suspects played their roles.
Kevin Durant landed a double-double with 29 points and 14 rebounds, and Devin Booker added 27 points and 8 assists. Phoenix had little help outside of their four mainstays of Durant, Booker, Chris Paul (11 points) and Deandre Ayton (14 points, 7 rebounds). Interestingly enough, the Suns outscored Denver 24-23 in bench points, largely due to points scored in the waning minutes of the fourth quarter.
Game 1 Recap
Scoring buckets is usually the focal point of a highlight reel, but defense is why the Denver Nuggets so handily won Game 1. Denver won the steals battle 14 to 4 and forced Phoenix into 16 turnovers. Winning those two battles largely correlates to the higher number of shots Denver had.
Outrebounding by 11 and slightly hitting a higher percentage of free throws also helped the cause. Denver had a gallery of scorers in this game, as all five starters plus Bruce Brown scored 10 or more points. The Suns fifth highest scorer was Jock Landale with 7 points in garbage time; Phoenix might need to come up with a new plan.
The deeper the playoffs go, the more a team’s effort level and player personnel dictates the outcome. Denver understands better now more than ever the importance of getting out and running and moving the ball at a higher pace to tire out the opponent. Battling to outrebound, outhustle, and outperform is crucial towards winning a championship. Denver seems to have figured out who will play what roles right now; the primary focus should be on making adjustments as the series progresses.
Keys to Game 2
After Game 1, Denver and Phoenix have a good idea of what each side needs to do in order to win. For the Nuggets, it’s making sure to keep up the effort when it comes to defense, rebounding, and free throws. All five starters and the bench have to continue to keep up the ball movement and make the Suns expend as much energy as possible. For Phoenix, they have to up the defensive intensity, and get some kind of help from their bench, and from starter Josh Okogie.
Perhaps the answer there for the four seed is changing who starts. The Suns seem to have a revolving door about how minutes are being distributed for that fifth position on the floor. Okogie, Torrey Craig, and/or Landry Shamet have to have big games for the duration of this series. Deandre Ayton has to continue to score and score often. Denver did a good job of minimizing the offensive impact Chris Paul had, as he was a major reason Denver didn’t win two years ago.
Continual pressure of Durant and Booker to force the ball out of their hands is key for Denver; Game 1 showed that’s a favorable result so far for the one seed. Game 2 will be a harder game for the home team, however. Game 3 isn’t until May 5th, meaning the Suns could feel even more revitalized if they tie things up. Every game is different after better learning about your opponent; Denver needs to remember this.
2 thoughts on “Mile High Cypher Report 2.0: Nuggets overheat Suns in Game 1 of Western Conference Semis, look to repeat in Game 2”