After the Denver Nuggets’ two convincing home wins, sweeping the Phoenix Suns in the Western Conference semifinals was a possibility.
Two losses in Phoenix have turned a potential sweep into a real series.
The Suns, behind scorching shooting from Devin Booker and Kevin Durant, tied the series with a 129-124 win in Game 4 on Sunday and will carry the momentum into Game 5 in Denver on Tuesday night.
The winner will be within a game of reaching the Western Conference finals. The Nuggets will likely have a full complement of players available, which was in question Sunday night.
There was a chance the league office would suspend Nikola Jokic for nudging Phoenix owner Matt Ishbia courtside in Game 4, but the NBA let the technical called on Jokic serve as punishment, along with a fine of $25,000.
That’s good news for Denver, which nearly rode Jokic’s career-high 53 points to a win Sunday night. But other than 28 points from Jamal Murray, the rest of the Nuggets’ lineup was not productive. Aaron Gordon and Michael Porter Jr. had 11 points apiece, but the Denver bench was outscored 40-11 by Phoenix’s reserves.
And that effort wasn’t enough to overcome the Suns’ role players.
Suns guard Landry Shamet scored 19 points and hit five 3-pointers, including four in the fourth quarter, when Phoenix took the lead for good. Booker and Durant each had 36 points, but Shamet was the difference.
“We were trying to make other guys beat us not named Booker, not named Durant,” Denver coach Michael Malone said. “(Shamet) gave them a third scoring option and he was a huge part of them winning.”
The Suns have played faster with Chris Paul sidelined due to a groin injury, and the star point guard will be out again on Tuesday. Despite the veteran floor leader’s absence, Phoenix has received big games from Booker and Durant.
Booker is 34-for-43 (79.1 per cent) from the field in the last two games and is shooting 66.7 per cent from 3-point range in those wins. The stellar numbers have stemmed from his ability to hit mid-range jumpers and get wide-open looks from behind the arc.
“I’m just trying to win,” Booker said. “Throw that efficiency ... out the window, I don’t care about that. Just keep going. Keep attacking, keep being aggressive. If it’s a product of getting open shots and knocking them down, that’s what I’m supposed to do.”
Booker and Durant have thwarted Denver’s defensive schemes, so the Nuggets are trying to figure out a new strategy.
“We definitely need defence,” Malone said. “The two games in Denver, I felt our defence was great, and we left it somewhere in the desert. It didn’t arrive in Phoenix.”
Now Malone and the Nuggets are tasked with making the proper adjustments for Game 5.
“We owe it to ourselves to make sure we’re looking at everything we can do to give us our best chance of winning,” Malone said. “Whether that’s adjusting the game plan, whether that’s adjusting the rotation, everything is on the table.”
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