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The Phoenix Suns defended home court their first time asking and will be back up to bat Sunday when they take on the Denver Nuggets, who lead their Western Conference semifinal series 2-1.
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The Suns—specifically Devin Booker and Kevin Durant—played an egotistical, prideful game in every sense in Game Three. Team cohesion, set execution, and all of the other principles that youth basketball coaches teach their players went out the window, and those two stars attacked relentlessly all night while still receiving very little support from their bench and supporting cast.
Booker and Durant combined to score 71% of their team’s points and were also the only two Phoenix players to attempt a free throw all night. On the other side, Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray were both great, but Jokic had several opportunities to bring his team back late in the game and instead passed out of obvious shooting situations, while Murray’s tired legs caused his jump shot to fall short throughout the fourth quarter.
Notably, Monty Williams appeared to have a falling out of sorts with starting center Deandre Ayton. Williams played him fewer minutes than he usually does and benched him from the closing lineup in favor of undrafted rookie Jock Landale, who was giving better effort and playing more effectively than Ayton on both ends. Ayton did not take kindly to the gesture and was sulking on the bench.
There aren’t enough words to describe the breathtaking display that Booker put forth. He scored 47 points on 80% shooting with only two free throws to go with nine assists and was consistent throughout the entire game. Durant’s 39 points, nine rebounds, and eight assists came on a much less efficient shooting night, but he put constant pressure on Denver’s defense and nailed a few big shots late on to see the game over the line.
Jokic had a stunning 30 points, 17 rebounds, and 17 assists (playoff career-high) but again made questionable decisions near the end of the game, and it’s possible that had he taken those open shots, Denver would have won or at least made it to overtime. Murray finished with 32 points, and Michael Ports Jer. had 21 and 12 rebounds on 6-10 three-point shooting.
Phoenix won the bench-scoring battle (21 to 20) for the first time in the series after getting just four points from the reserves in Game Two. It shot only 32% from three and committed lots of fouls but managed to ride the coattails of Books and Durant to the finish line. Their approach isn’t sustainable but did get them a much-needed win to keep the series alive,
It will be virtually impossible for Booker to play as brilliant of a game as he did in Game Two—not a discredit to him, but a testament to how sensational he was. That alone will put the Suns in the danger zone since they still do not have reliable bench players and are also missing Chris Paul, who was injured in Game Two and won’t be back for Games Four or Five.
The Nuggets also have an intelligent coach in Mike Malone that will make adjustments. His double-teams bothered Durant and are likely to return in Game Four, even if Booker was successful against them. He will also find a way to get Murray more rest on offense, whether that be by having others bring the ball up or leaving him in the corner more to keep him fresh for the fourth quarter.
No team in NBA playoff history has ever come back from a 3-0 deficit. The Suns did what they needed to do to keep their physical and mental hopes alive, but Game Four is a clean slate. Denver has been the deeper and more purposeful team throughout the series and has a chance to prove that again Sunday.
There are no schematics or player-on-player breakdowns that will lead to the Suns winning. The answer simply comes from both Booker and Durant needing to have enormous games, and the rest of the rotation not playing terribly. It will be interesting to see if Williams fully commits to moving on from Ayton and benches him—it is unlikely but on the board.
The Nuggets are the better team. If they can hold the Suns’ star pairing under 80 points, which isn’t a tall task, and keep Murray a little fresher for the closing minutes, they will be in great shape. They have already proven they can bother Durant, now it’s about slowing down Booker.
The Nuggets’ moneyline is the strongest player here. Not only does the line have positive odds, but they have repeatedly shown, even in defeat, that they are the more complete team. Phoenix had over three days off between Games Two and Three and needed to win Friday, and it should be back to regularly-scheduled programming.
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Where: Footprint Center, Phoenix, AZ
When: 8:00 p.m. ET, Sunday, May 7
Streaming: YouTube TV, Hulu, Sling, etc.
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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