The Suns beat the Nuggets, Jamal Murray, and Athletes in losing the first game

Sun Empire

Updated: Apr 29, 2023 at 10:40 p.m

DENVER – The Phoenix Suns won’t deal with being talented anymore. That stopped once the ball went up in the air for Game 1 on Saturday of the second round against the Denver Nuggets.

In fact, Nuggets looked more talented. In addition to the great parts of their individual play, they were much better as a team as well and fired up the Sun with an impressive first strike, 125-107.

The Phoenix Maths across the first two quarters were disembowelled and placed in a hole from which they could not escape. Kevin Durant had the stat sheet in front of him and kept coming back to Denver getting 17 more shots and turning them over seven times almost half of Phoenix’s 16 shots.

Thanks to going +9 on offensive rebounds and +4 on turnovers, the Nuggets attempted 15 more shots in the first half. In addition, they made seven more three-thirds and took twelve more. The Suns’ prolific free throw shooting in the first round wasn’t even starting, as Denver went +2 there, too.

Getting that much edge in categories that simply come down to effort and engagement is actually what the Suns used to do they opponents over the past two years. Even worse is doing it in a series like this one that’s in the middle. Denver was stellar, as a No. 1 seed should be, and the Suns were on their feet almost all night because of it.

“I thought they were more physical, they played more aggressively, especially in the second quarter,” Suns coach Monty Williams said of it. “This is where we kind of lost some momentum. And the difference is in possession. Offensive turnovers and rebounds ruined us tonight.”

That’s how you lose half by 15 when shooting at 55%.

“When you look at the stat sheet, they get it [101] Shots, we got 84,” Durant said. “They got 37, we got 23. They made 16, we made seven. It’s a make-or-miss league. We can talk about a lot of different things that develop in our league like getting back on defense, doing the extra pass, but if you make more shots than your opponent you have a good chance of winning a basketball game and that’s what they did. “

While this is certainly the way to lose a game, most of the time basketball will provide multiple opportunities to get back in the game.

The first window came early in the third quarter when the Phoenix went down 12. A downed possession forced Chris Paul to jump, Devin Booker’s great block was followed by a Torey Craig miss and then a Nuggets offensive rebound that led to a Nikola Jokic 3. Phoenix’s next run down resulted in a miss Deandre Ayton came off a short lap and dropped 15 when he could easily have been single digits.

The second window was the start of the fourth quarter with the Suns down by 13 as they scored five consecutive possessions, only to allow the Nuggets to do the same. Jeff Green failed to convert a layup in the sandwich position by buckets from Jamal Murray and the “Blue Arrow” dagger fired a 3 soon after to put Denver up 17 with 6:57 left to wrap it up.

Murray relished the opportunity to face Phoenix in the postseason after missing the 2021 series due to an injury. His shot was great and the Suns had no answers on how to defend him. He had a game-high 34 points and nine assists shooting 13-of-24 with two steals.

If there’s another game in this series when Denver has the MVP and not Jokic, the Suns are overcooked.

“Let’s be honest—some of the shots he hit, I don’t think anyone could have stopped him tonight,” Williams said of Murray. “But we have to do something a little different in our schemes to prevent him from getting the ball or getting the ball out of his hands.”

Aaron Gordon, who had a total of 36 points in a four-game sweep two years ago, was stellar on offense with 23 points for 9-for-13.

And although back-to-back MVP Jokic went 9-for-21, his plentiful contributions of 24 points, 19 rebounds, and five assists were more than enough.

Durant was great, even with his seven turnovers and one assist, and played poker really well, too. But no one else had much influence. Once again, the Suns can no longer win this way. The teams are very good at this stage of the playoffs. Booker began to get into manic downhill mode again from the first drive in the fourth quarter but it didn’t matter, unlike the switch turn that was so effective against the Clippers.

Durant scored 29 points and 14 rebounds, while Booker added 27 points with eight assists.

Ayton found some rhythm on a short lap as a scorer but was underplayed by Jokic. The latter is much more important, and if that’s the trend, it’s a massive handicap for the Suns to try and offset. Chris Paul was less on the ball and couldn’t find the flow to swing the game from there.

Williams went with Landry Shamet as the first sub to keep some volume in the backcourt and have another option to defend Murray. It didn’t go well at all. Murray was too confident to tackle Chamett as a mismatch, and it seemed that way, although Chamett played some really good defense on a few possessions.

Sometimes in these situations, confidence is all that matters.

Given the shortcomings in 3-point attempts – Murray’s dagger was his sixth 3-pointer and the Suns had just five points at that point – it seems that role should be returned to Cam Payne. Denver hasn’t been great at containing the Dodger hack and that’s Payne’s bread and butter. He would have generated 3s that way, and Craig did a better job on Murray anyway. Josh Okogie returned to the starting lineup to play Murray and played well, doing a good job of fighting through some action to contain Murray.

Denver started small off the bench, as expected, and Phoenix stuck with the traditional back-up 5. The results were mixed. The Suns did a good job running offense through the centers but weren’t decisive enough, and Denver won those minutes regardless.

Phoenix had 20 assists and 16 turnovers, which is good for a 1.25 assist-to-turnover ratio. Saturday came in leading the league in 2.18 for the playoffs and 2.01 for the regular season in third place.

Both Williams and Ayton noted that the movement of the ball was not good enough, with Williams saying that the ball was “sticky” at times. Paul emphasized the increase in speed and took the blame for it, but there were a handful of times you could see him signaling his team to join him in skipping a bug. At one point Paul turned to start the break and saw Aiton stationary right in front of him and gave him the tap to get down on the floor.

The total numbers outside of inconsistent shot attempts weren’t particularly harsh for Phoenix. They were down 18-7 on turnover points but second chance points were 14-12 in Denver and Phoenix won on fastbreak points 23-20.

What the Suns did wrong is rectifiable.

When asked if that was the case, Booker said, “I always believed in us.” “We’ve been a good team all year to absorb the game, see what happened and learn from it and make those corrections.”

Looming after Game 1, however, is what the Nuggets did right. It was great, and Phoenix’s response in Game 2 on Monday – whether in a win or a loss – will be telling.

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