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The Phoenix Suns defended home court and tied the series at 2-2 but now head to mile-high to face the Denver Nuggets, who won both of the series’ previous games at home, on Tuesday night.
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The Suns won Game Four on the back of another breathtaking performance from guard Devin Booker (39 points on 14-18 FG, 12 assists, six rebounds). Booker is now shooting a combined 79% from the field and 66.7% from three in his last two games and is averaging 36.8 points, 7.4 assists, and 5.1 rebounds across the entire playoffs. He has been so outstanding that Kevin Durant’s 39 points and 30-point postseason average look mundane.
While the Suns’ stars were lighting it up in Game Four, so too was Denver’s two-time MVP center, Nikola Jokic. “The Joker” went for a jaw-dropping 53 points and 11 assists on 66.7% shooting. That was the most points scored by a player in a regulation loss and the most points a center has scored and assisted for in postseason history.
The difference was the bench production, and for the first time all playoffs, that went in favor of the Suns. Landry Shamet’s 19 points and four fourth-quarter three-pointers were crucial in the Suns getting over the line, whereas Denver’s three bench players had plus/minus scores of -10, -11, and -16. Four of the Nuggets’ five starters were positive.
Both teams shot 56% from the field, but the Suns made 13 threes and shot 44.8% from long range, whereas the Nuggets only made seven and shot 31.8%. Phoenix also got to the free-throw line more frequently, mostly thanks to Booker and Durant’s intensity and relentlessness driving the ball to the basket.
Jamal Murray backed up Jokic with 28 points and seven assists, but nobody else on Denver was able to provide more than 11 points. Michael Porter Jr. had a chance to bring the game within two points late in the fourth quarter after Denver had just been down 11 but opted for an egregious transition pull-up three, which he missed badly.
The Suns’ bench outscored the Nuggets’ 40-11. Although that is not sustainable, as seen by all of the Suns’ previous performances, Monty Williams has stumbled onto a new rotation of reserves that prioritizes shooting to space the floor. Shamet, T.J. Warren, and Terrence Ross now regularly feature instead of the usual Josh Okogie, Bismack Biyombo, and Torrey Craig trio.
The Suns won by seven and five points in their two home games despite getting historic performances out of Booker, and Durant also being tremendously effective. It is unfair to expect them to replicate these performances moving forward, but at the same time, they have been doing it for the entire postseason.
Denver still looks like the better team top-to-bottom but is quickly losing hold of that title. It was entirely Jokic-centric in Game Four and was blown out in the battle of the bench, which was supposed to be an asset in the series. The pressure is now on Mike Malone to make the necessary adjustments, since double-teams were leaving open shooters that made good on their opportunities.
Denver had the best home record in the NBA (35-6) and now gets to head back for Game Five. Phoenix lost there by an average of 14 points earlier in the series but is coming back with a new rotation and greater levels of confidence. The Nuggets’ rest advantage is now also entirely gone as both teams have been locked into battle in every game in the series.
The Nuggets seemed to have kicked their woes whenever Jokic was on the bench earlier in the series but refound them in Game Four. They don’t want the rest of the series to devolve into a star-for-star shootout given the levels that Booker and Durant have been at in these playoffs, but they also can’t afford to have another lethargic team showing.
Our previews for every game in this series have stated that the Suns’ star pairing needs to be out of this world for them to have a chance, and we thought the series would be done within five games. That is now a mathematical impossibility, and the stars have been at all-time levels of greatness. Once again, they have to be nothing short of sensational to win on the road.
Call it poking the bear, but the best bet is still on the Nuggets to cover in Game Five. It is simply unrealistic to count on Booker to score close to 40 a night on 80% shooting, even if he did just that in each of the last two games. Jokic also showed visible frustration on the sidelines of Game Four en route to his historic night and will have his team ready to fight at home, where they were so dominant.
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Grant is a sports and sports betting journalist who prides himself on delivering breaking news and insightful analyses of the industry. Grant graduated from Virginia Tech in 2021 and is feverishly pursuing his ambitions in the sports betting field.
In his free time, Grant can be found passionately watching sports, doing a workout, or searching for adventure with his friends.More info on Grant Mitchell
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