NBA

NBA playoffs 2021: Suns pin down Nuggets in opener as Paul hails Phoenix tag team

By Sports Desk June 08, 2021

Chris Paul compared the Phoenix Suns to a wrestling tag team after they beat the Denver Nuggets 122-105 in their NBA playoffs semi-final opener.

In front of what Paul described as "crazy" home support, the Suns bossed the second half 65-47 to take first blood in the Western Conference last-four series.

Paul (21 points and 11 assists) and Deandre Ayton (20 points and 10 rebounds) fuelled the second-seeded Suns, who saw all of their starters finish with double-digit points – Devin Booker (21), Mikal Bridges (23) and Jae Crowder (14) making priceless contributions.

With the likes of Cameron Payne and Torrey Craig coming off the bench – the latter having nine points and eight rebounds in under 18 minutes on court – there are good grounds for optimism in the Suns ranks.

Paul said the key to the Suns second-half surge, after slipping 70-60 behind at one point, was "just playing with pace", and a vibrant home atmosphere, with Olympic swimming great Michael Phelps among the crowd.

"They got a nice little lead on us there in the third quarter," he said. "This crowd is crazy. It's crazy. To have the fans in there, the energy, there's nothing like it.

"I told the guys this is why we fought so hard during the regular season to get home-court advantage. I think we truly have that with our fanbase here."

For Denver, MVP favourite Nikola Jokic was limited to 22 points on 10-for-23 shooting, nine rebounds and three assists on the road.

Paul said the Suns have real character as a unit.

"It's fun to be on the team," he said. "It's almost like wrestling and you're tagging in.

"You go out of the game and there's no drop-off, there's just another unit coming in and keeping pressure on you.

"I think that's the benefit of having the team like we have."

The second game in the series takes place on Wednesday, again at the Phoenix Suns Arena.

While Paul praised others, Booker hailed Paul's contribution.

"We felt that energy. We felt that passion behind it," Booker said.

"He just made plays. Not only his scoring ability but getting everybody else involved. That's been the story of the season for us, following him in that regard."

Related items

  • NBA playoffs 2021: George hails 'tough' Clippers after vital victory over Suns NBA playoffs 2021: George hails 'tough' Clippers after vital victory over Suns

    Paul George hailed the toughness of the Los Angeles Clippers as they celebrated their first ever win in the Western Conference Finals after overcoming the Phoenix Suns 106-92 in Game 3.

    Making their first foray into the Conference Finals, the Clippers slumped to a 2-0 deficit against the second-seeded Suns heading into Thursday's clash in Los Angeles.

    With Kawhi Leonard still sidelined by a knee injury, George took centre stage as he recorded a 27-point and 15-rebound double-double – which included a stunning half-court buzzer-beater in the third period.

    "This team is tough," George told ESPN. "We do whatever it takes. We trust one another. We've got each other's backs, and we just play hard.

    "If you're going to beat us, it's just got to be one of those nights if you beat us. I think we've just got great resilience.

    "Ty Lue just does a great job making adjustments, counters. We come out and we play hard.

    "We put so much into this season, we've invested so much in each other, and we're going to live with the results.

    "We'll be ready for Game 4."

    Entering the contest at Staples Center following back-to-back games on the road, George had scored at least 20 points in all 15 games this postseason.

    The latest performance saw George eclipse LeBron James' run of 15 consecutive games (in 2016) with 20-plus points in the playoffs – Kevin Durant is the only other active player to achieve the feat in the postseason (20 straight in 2012 and 21 in a row in 2018).

    The Clippers – who are the first team all-time to be down 2-0 three times in a single postseason – outscored the visiting Suns 34-21 in the third quarter to move clear.

    Reggie Jackson added 23 points for the Clippers, while Ivica Zubac (15 points and 16 rebounds) finished with a double-double of his own.

    George and Zubac became the first set of team-mates to each tally 15-plus points and 15-plus rebounds in a playoff showdown since James (28 points and 15 rebounds) and Kevin Love (15 points and 21 rebounds) in 2017.

    The starting team, which featured George, Jackson, Zubac, Patrick Beverley and Terance Mann, was Lue's fifth change of line-up across the previous eight games, with the coach reaping the rewards of earning his players' trust.

    "It means a lot just for those guys to trust me, to understand that whatever I'm doing is the best for the team, not for me," said Lue.

    "I just want to win. Making adjustments, sometimes it's tough, because adjustments mean some guys can't play, some guys play more, and you've got to be able to accept that."

  • NBA playoffs 2021: Clippers win first ever Conference Finals game as George helps reduce series deficit NBA playoffs 2021: Clippers win first ever Conference Finals game as George helps reduce series deficit

    Paul George dominated as the Los Angeles Clippers celebrated their first ever win in the Western Conference Finals after overcoming the Phoenix Suns 106-92 in Game 3.

    Featuring in the Conference Finals for the first time in franchise history, the Clippers found themselves in a 2-0 hole against the second-seeded Suns heading into Thursday's clash in Los Angeles.

    Even in the ongoing absence of superstar Kawhi Leonard (knee), George picked up the slack with a 27-point and 15-rebound double-double – which included a stunning half-court buzzer-beater in the third period – to lift the Clippers and help reduce the series deficit to 2-1.

    Entering the contest at Staples Center following back-to-back games on the road, George had scored at least 20 points in all 15 games this postseason.

    The latest performance saw George eclipse LeBron James' run of 15 consecutive games (in 2016) with 20-plus points in the playoffs – Kevin Durant is the only other active player to achieve the feat in the postseason (20 straight in 2012 and 21 in a row in 2018).

    The Clippers – who are the first team all-time to be down 2-0 three times in a single postseason – outscored the visiting Suns 34-21 in the third quarter to move clear.

    Reggie Jackson added 23 points for the Clippers, while Ivica Zubac (15 points and 16 rebounds) finished with a double-double of his own.

    George and Zubac became the first set of team-mates to each tally 15-plus points and 15-plus rebounds in a playoff showdown since James (28 points and 15 rebounds) and Kevin Love (15 points and 21 rebounds) in 2017.

    Suns veteran Chris Paul returned from the league's health and safety protocol and posted 15 points and 12 assists.

    Paul became the 13th player in NBA history with 1,000 playoff assists in the losing effort.

    It was a tough outing for star team-mate Devin Booker, who was just five-for-21 shooting as he finished with 15 points in a team-high 40 minutes.

     

    Hawks at Bucks

    Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks will look to bounce back against the Atlanta Hawks in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals on Friday. Trae Young and the Hawks claimed the opener in Milwaukee.

  • Durant calls out Pippen after Bulls great says Nets star 'doesn't have what LeBron has' Durant calls out Pippen after Bulls great says Nets star 'doesn't have what LeBron has'

    Kevin Durant fired back at Hall of Famer Scottie Pippen's criticism following the Brooklyn Nets' Eastern Conference semi-finals exit in the NBA playoffs.

    Chicago Bulls great and six-time NBA champion Pippen gave a blunt assessment of superstar Durant, who was unable to guide the Nets to the Conference Finals.

    Durant averaged a career-high 34.3 points, a career-best 9.3 rebounds and 4.4 assists in this season's playoffs, but the second-seeded Nets fell to the Milwaukee Bucks after overtime in Game 7 in the second round.

    His 48 points in the series decider were the most scored in a Game 7 in NBA history, but that did not spare him of criticism from Pippen – who referenced Los Angeles Lakers superstar LeBron James.

    "He needs to learn how to utilise his teams," Pippen, who played alongside Michael Jordan in Chicago, told GQ. "He has to learn how to set up his team-mates to be better. That's it. As great as he is, there's a [cap] to his [talent].

    "He could've easily made that three, killed them in regulation, and we wouldn't have been talking about this. But I knew going into overtime, he wasn't gonna make it. He was taking all the shots. You done played the whole game, bro! And they've got guys physically wearing you down. You gonna lose."

    Pippen added: "KD can score better than LeBron, probably always have been able to. But has he surpassed LeBron? Naw. He tried to beat the Milwaukee Bucks instead of utilising his team. You see what I'm saying?

    "LeBron James would've figured out how to beat them and he wouldn't have been exhausted and he may not have taken the last shot. But LeBron ain't KD, and KD ain't LeBron. KD is a shooter, a scorer. But he doesn't have what LeBron has."

    Durant, who shouldered the load in the Nets-Bucks series as James Harden struggled with a hamstring injury and Kyrie Irving missed time due to an ankle problem, called out Pippen on social media.

    A two-time champion, two-time Finals MVP and 2014 NBA MVP, Durant wrote via Twitter: "Didn't the great Scottie Pippen refuse to go in the game for the last second shot because he was in his feelings his coach drew up the play for a better shooter??

    "This guy Scott also wanted to enjoy his summer so he chose to rehab during the season lol yo @ScottiePippen THEY FOLLOWED PHIL [JACKSON], NOT YOU!!!"

© 2020 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.