PHOENIX | Chris Paul is a 36-year-old man who can still put together an NBA point guard’s version of a virtuoso performance: Fifteen assists, no turnovers and it led to another blowout playoff victory for his rolling Phoenix Suns.
“I feel good,” Paul said. “I feel really good.”
The ageless Paul added 17 points, Devin Booker had 18 points and 10 rebounds and Phoenix routed the Denver Nuggets 123-98 on Wednesday night to take a 2-0 lead in the Western Conference semifinals.
Deandre Ayton had 15 points and 10 rebounds, and Mikal Bridges added 16 points for the balanced Suns in their fifth straight victory.
Paul was particularly impressive and it appears his ailing right shoulder — which greatly limited his play against the Los Angeles Lakers in the first round — isn’t much of a problem anymore. The 11-time All-Star had 21 points and 11 assists in Game 1.
Nikola Jokic had 24 points and 13 rebounds for Denver, a day after getting the NBA’s Most Valuable Player award. But the Nuggets couldn’t find anyone else to score consistently, leaving them reeling going back to Denver for Game 3 on Friday night.
“This was an embarrassing performance for myself all the way to the last player,” Denver coach Michael Malone said. “We are walking out here with our heads held down and rightfully so. There was a reason that their crowd was yelling ”Suns in four!” and they are calling for a sweep because if we play like this in Denver, this is going to be a really quick series.”
Later, Malone added he felt the Nuggets “quit tonight, which is something that you never want to see.”
Said Jokic: “They are playing better than us. They are making shots, being more aggressive, finding the open man. It looks real bad out there. We need to change everything.”
The Suns had a 10-point halftime lead and Jae Crowder added a pair of 3-pointers early in the third to make it 60-43. Phoenix took an 86-67 advantage into the fourth. The Suns led by 31 in the final quarter as they relentlessly pushed the ball even as the lead built.
“It’s the NBA — crazy things can happen no matter how big of a lead you have,” Suns forward Torrey Craig said.
Crowder had another good night as the Suns’ long-range shooter and enforcer. He and Denver’s Aaron Gordon were each called for a technical foul after they exchanged words and shoves midway through the third. On the next possession, Crowder coaxed Gordon into committing an offensive foul, much to the delight of the 16,529 at Phoenix Suns Arena.
“It was one of our better defensive halves of the year against a good offensive team,” Suns coach Monty Williams said. “We were relentless with our effort, our communication and coverages.”
Crowder said he isn’t seeking to be the team’s enforcer but the moments keep finding him.
He joked that he’s already given to much money to the NBA in the form of fines during this postseason.
“I got to be smart and protect my money a little,” he added grinning.
Paul pushed the sellout crowd into a frenzy in the fourth, throwing his 15th assist to Craig after criss-crossing around helpless Denver forward Paul Millsap. Paul then hit a pair of 3-pointers and the celebration was on in the desert with the Suns rolling in their first playoff appearance in 11 seasons.
“It got a little loud, then it got really loud, then it got crazy,” Paul said
Phoenix took a 52-42 halftime lead after a sloppy first half where both teams struggled to generate offense. Denver was shaky with its long range shooting, making just 1 of 13 3-pointers in the first quarter.
Booker had 13 points before the break. Jokic countered with 15 points.
Some of Denver’s better players are dealing with injuries, including forward Michael Porter Jr. (back) and guard Will Barton (hamstring). Both were listed on the injury report.
Porter started and played 27 minutes, finishing with 11 points and six rebounds but shot just 3 of 13 from the field. Barton played for the first time in about six weeks, entering the game late in the first quarter. He played 16 minutes and had 10 points and was also called for a technical foul in the third.
Nuggets: Guards PJ Dozier (right adductor strain) and Jamal Murray (left ACL surgery) didn’t play. … Millsap had 11 points and six rebounds.
Suns: Forward Abdel Nader (right knee arthroscopy) didn’t play. … The Suns had a 52-46 rebounding advantage.