No team was better against quality competition than the Phoenix Suns during the regular season. So far, that's holding true in the playoffs, as well.
The Suns completed a sweep of the Denver Nuggets on Sunday with a 125-118 win, advancing to their first Western Conference finals since 2010. They will face the winner of the series between the Utah Jazz and Los Angeles Clippers, in which the the Jazz currently lead 2-1.
Leading the Suns once again was Chris Paul, who scored a season-high 37 points, his most in a playoff game since a playoff career-high 41 in the 2018 postseason. He was near automatic at midrange, repeatedly hurting the Suns from the right elbow:
Paul finished the series averaging 24.3 points, 10.3 assists and five rebounds in four games, which is pretty good for a 36-year-old with a still-healing shoulder who was basically a salary dump two seasons ago. Devin Booker also chipped in 34 points, 11 rebounds and four assists, continuing a strong beginning to his playoffs career.
After falling behind 2-0 in the opening minute, the Suns led for the entire game and by as much as 16 points. The Nuggets cut the lead to a single possession four different times, but still couldn't find that next gear, especially after losing their most important player.
Nikola Jokic ejected in third quarter
Hope for a Nuggets comeback diminished greatly in the third quarter, when league MVP Nikola Jokic was ejected on a flagrant 2 foul for hitting Suns guard Cameron Payne hard in the face:
Jokic finished with 22 points (9-of-17 shooting), 11 rebounds, four assists and zero turnovers.
Despite losing their star player, the Nuggets still managed to hang around for the game. They cut the lead to as little as five points midway through the fourth quarter, and weren't out of it until this back-breaking sequence with less than two minutes in the game:
The Suns still look legit
The Suns as a whole were 27-11 against opponents over .500 during the regular season, the best mark in the NBA. They were 3-0 against the Jazz, 2-0 against the Milwaukee Bucks, 2-1 against the Los Angeles Lakers and 2-0 against the Philadelphia 76ers, with losing records against the Clippers and Brooklyn Nets.
Before sweeping the Nuggets, the Suns took down the Western Conference favorite Lakers (with some assistance from Anthony Davis' groin injury). Whoever comes out of the other side of the bracket will be another strong opponent, but the Suns have done nothing but measure up since the end of the regular season.
Nuggets season comes to frustrating end
As well as the Suns played, the Nuggets probably can't help but feel a sense of "What if?" as they exit the playoffs.
What if Jamal Murray's ACL was still intact? What if Will Barton could have started for the entire series rather than just Game 4? What if Michael Porter Jr. played like the Michael Porter Jr. of the regular season in the series? What if Jokic played all of Game 4?
Finding concrete answers to those questions will be impossible, but Denver will still have to navigate them as it enters the offseason. The team still has the league MVP, a returning Murray and plenty of young talent, but taking the next step may require even more than that.
For now though, they can only sit and stew in the fact that they're the first team to get swept with the NBA MVP since Magic Johnson and the 1989 Los Angeles Lakers.
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