Suns shine as veteran Paul leads the way

Phoenix Suns guard Chris Paul putting up a shot against Facundo Campazzo of the Denver Nuggets during Game 2 of their NBA Western Conference semi-final series. The Suns won 123-98 to take a 2-0 lead.
Phoenix Suns guard Chris Paul putting up a shot against Facundo Campazzo of the Denver Nuggets during Game 2 of their NBA Western Conference semi-final series. The Suns won 123-98 to take a 2-0 lead.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

PHOENIX • Chris Paul scored 17 points and handed out 15 assists on Wednesday to propel the Phoenix Suns to a crushing 123-98 victory over the Denver Nuggets and a 2-0 lead in their National Basketball Association (NBA) Western Conference semi-final play-off series.

Veteran point guard Paul, 36, was the key to the Suns' dominant victory, finishing the night without a turnover and also snatching five rebounds.

Every Suns starter scored in double figures and Phoenix did not give the Nuggets a chance to celebrate the Most Valuable Player award that their centre Nikola Jokic received on Tuesday.

Devin Booker scored a further 18 points for the hosts, while Deandre Ayton added 15 points and 10 rebounds and kept Jokic in check for much of the night.

Jokic finished with 24 points, 13 rebounds and six assists but sat out the fourth quarter with Phoenix in full control.

"It was a team effort, once again," Paul said. "We knew how important this game was," he added, noting the Suns did not want to head to Denver for Game 3 today with the series split. "We just wanted to maintain home-court advantage and get the win."

The Nuggets clearly continued to miss Jamal Murray - out for the rest of the campaign with a torn knee ligament picked up in April - and Jokic got little aid from his banged-up supporting cast, with P.J. Dozier also out.

Denver missed eight of their first 10 shots and things went downhill for them from there.

Michael Porter Jr, who hurt his back in Game 1, put up 11 points but connected on just three of 13 shots from the field.

Will Barton, sidelined since April with hamstring trouble, made his return, coming off the bench in the first quarter to score 10 points in 16 minutes, but it was not enough.

Denver coach Michael Malone offered no excuses, calling his team's defeat "embarrassing".

"I saw one team that wanted to be here, played with purpose and urgency, and one team that did not want to be here and played with no urgency - and that's why we got our ass kicked," he said after seeing his team suffer their biggest losing margin this season.

"We've got a lot of guys that played really bad tonight. And we allowed the impact of not making a shot to affect the other end. This was just an embarrassing performance all the way around, from top to bottom."

The Suns will play the next two games in Denver and Paul wants his team to "make sure we travel with the same energy".

"We've been a really good road team all season long," the guard said. "We'll rest and try to get ready for the mile high (the Nuggets' physical style of play)."

Elsewhere, Utah Jazz centre Rudy Gobert - dubbed the "Stifle Tower" - was named the NBA's Defensive Player of the Year on Wednesday, the third time the French big man has earned the award.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 11, 2021, with the headline 'Suns shine as veteran Paul leads the way'. Subscribe