Mile High Cypher Report 2.1: Nuggets earn gritty 97-87 Game 2 Western Semis win to go up 2-0

By Daniel Paiz

Game 2 was a battle of wills, as the Denver Nuggets prevail over the Phoenix Suns 97-87 to take a 2-0 series lead in the Western Conference Semis. 2-time MVP Nikola Jokic went off for 39 points, 16 rebounds, and 5 assists. Aaron Gordon chipped in 16 points and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope added 14 points, including two very impactful three-pointers in the fourth quarter that gave Denver the lead and the momentum.

Kevin Durant had 24 points and 8 rebounds, and Devin Booker had 35 points. Phoenix took a page out of Denver’s book and played 11 players in their Game 2 loss; unfortunately for the road team, their bench was outscored 13-4 as Denver stuck with key reserves Bruce Brown, Jeff Green, and Christian Braun.

Game 2 Recap

The first quarter of Game 2 looked different than in Game 1; a whole lot of missed shots, aligned with increased defensive physicality on both sides. The start of the second quarter was a shift, as the Suns shot worse, and the Nuggets somewhat hit; simple mistakes prevented them from pushing the lead out. The physical first half led to less scoring; despite that, a 14-3 run by Denver at the 6:30 mark in the second felt like a momentum shift. It didn’t last, as both teams had sloppy offense, no movement with the ball, and at halftime the Suns held onto a 42-40 lead.

Second half was more of the same, as Denver and Phoenix up the effort while scoring comes and goes throughout. Denver can’t seem to get things going with the usual suspects outside of Nikola Jokic; Bruce Brown had some key baskets as he finished the night with 9 points. With the third quarter winding down, the Suns’ front court has foul trouble. Deandre Ayton had his 5th foul early in the fourth, limiting what he could do.

Denver continually stuck around, finding ways to score. At the start of the fourth, there’s an update on Chris Paul, who left in the third; the veteran guard is out for the night with left groin tightness. Denver capitalizes on the missing midrange game the Suns need at this point. A 6-0 run courtesy of two Kentavious Caldwell-Pope threes gives Denver a 76-73 lead just under the 9-minute mark in the fourth.

Bodies are flailing, maximum effort is being given as this is an all-out battle of wills by both teams. Denver at the speed of molasses continues to grow their fourth quarter lead. Both teams are exhausted, as the minutes tick down; Phoenix misses some shots, Denver misses some shots. This game is coming down to who wants it more, and who’s going to make that extra play. These last two minutes of the fourth are exactly that, with Jokic and Caldwell-Pope getting buckets. A 27-14 fourth quarter is the factor as Denver takes a 2-0 lead in this best of seven series.

This one is a mishmash of which stats determined this game. Denver shot better from the field but with 19 fewer shots, while Phoenix had better free-throw shooting but 13 fewer trips to the line. Denver outrebounds but Phoenix wins the offensive boards battle. Denver both steals more and turns the ball over more; the Suns fouled nine more times than Denver. Stats don’t always paint the full picture, and that’s a good thing for Denver tonight.

Keys to Game 3

There are three full days off as the series shifts down to Phoenix for Games 3 and 4. Both teams can use the rest, especially the Suns who will be figuring out if Chris Paul will be back by Game 3. Phoenix took a different approach in Game 2, diving into their bench to up the physicality and somewhat use Denver’s home court advantage against them. Denver response was slow, as at halftime they trailed 42-40. Second half adjustments led to Denver’s win, as they slowly continued to find offense and pushed the visitors into tough shots. The Suns have to figure out how to get Ayton more points, as well as get some kind of bench help.

Nikola Jokic scored the majority of his points in the second half. His scoring has won plenty of games for Denver in the regular season and the playoffs. He and the rest of Denver’s ballhandlers have to get back to moving the ball around more to tire out the defense. It’s easier to say than to do, but the more assists Jokic has, the better Denver performs.

Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. will have to be more aggressive on the offensive side of things. For Murray, it was an off night; for Porter Jr., a five-point night will make things that much more difficult for everyone in midnight and sunshine. Denver saw what Phoenix’s eleven players could do, so it might not be such a bad idea to throw a few more Nuggets at Friday’s hosts to see if that helps Denver earn a third win.


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