A 53-point performance from one of the most dominant forces in the NBA proved insufficient on Sunday night. Nikola Jokic’s efforts made him the 1st center since 1975 to record a fifty-plus game in the playoffs. However, his team would be on the losing end of the game, as the Phoenix Suns even the series to two-a-piece.
After going down 0-2 to begin, Phoenix’s 129-124 win has turned the series into a best of three. While it appeared as if their wheels had fallen off early, they are back on track and could be en route to overtake the opposition.
It took an all-around effort from the team. At one point, even Suns owner Mat Ishiba got involved from the courtside. But if Game 4 indicated what the Suns need to advance, then the recipe is pretty straightforward.
Stars being stars
Kevin Durant and Devin Booker are starting to materialize as the deadly scoring duo they are. The pair rode the momentum of Game 3 when Durant’s 39 points supplemented Booker’s 47. In Game 4, they had 36 each.
While both have had decent to good scoring performances throughout this series, their shot selection in Game 4 was noteworthy. Durant and Booker shot 57.9 and 77.8% from the field, respectively. They were also efficient outside the arch, shooting 50 and 75% from three.
The two balanced each other out, filling in their gaps in other aspects of the game. Durant had 11 rebounds to Booker’s six. Durant had six assists while Booker dished out twelve. The Suns need them to be great on a nightly basis to win a title, and at this rate, it looks like they are starting to catch their stride in unison.
While Durant and Booker embodied our expectations, it was a relatively slow night for the rest of the starters. DeAndre Ayton, Josh Okogie, and Cameron Payne failed to break double digits in scoring, combined for seven assists and 12 rebounds.
However, the Phoenix bench came out strongly when it mattered. Jock Landale and Terrence Ross both made their presence felt within their given minutes. TJ Warren hit two clutch free throws and turned the close game into a two-possession contest with 22 seconds remaining. Landry Shamet turned into prime Ray Allen in the fourth, hitting four of his five three-pointers in the final frame to bring the Suns ahead.
In the absence of Chris Paul, Shamet’s pace on the ball has also been essential to the Suns’ ability to move forward. While the starting lineup is hot and cold outside their two aces, Phoenix’s not-so-deep bench was absolutely critical as they tied the series.
The Suns did a lot of things well in Game 4. They moved the ball to the open man, rebounded well, and picked the right shots. While Jokic had another stellar performance, there is no doubt that Ayton has no response to his dominance. However, the Suns’ defense became very important when protecting their lead.
While they collectively tallied six steals and two blocks, Phoenix applied the pressure needed to keep the Nuggets at bay. They forced turnovers in the dying minutes, preventing Denver from getting within reach.
You can never count Jokic and the Nuggets out of any series. After all, they were the first-seeded team in the wild west for a reason. But if Phoenix continues to ride this momentum, play smart and efficient basketball, and pressure their opponents into uncomfortable situations, they may very well come out of this series.
The fifth round of this nailbiting Western Conference semifinal takes place on Tuesday, May 9 at 10 PM Eastern time.