Steady Suns Take Game Four, Even Series

(AP Photo/Matt York)

There’s just something about the home cooking.

The Phoenix Suns overcame an offensive explosion by Nikola Jokic (53 points, 11 assists), punching back and holding serve with a 129-124 Game 4 win over the Denver Nuggets Sunday evening at Footprint Center.

“These moments come down to who wants it,” Devin Booker said in his post-game press conference. “I like our group.”

Once again, Booker and Kevin Durant paced the Phoenix, each scoring 36 points. Booker dished out a game-high 12 assists, Durant grabbed a team-high 11 rebounds.

However, they had plenty of help.

Landry Shamet came off the bench to score 19 points on 6-9 shooting, 5-8 from three-point range. Deandre Ayton scored eight points, grabbed eight rebounds, and made a handful of key plays down the stretch. Ayton’s back up, Jock Landale, scored eight points and collected five rebounds. Terrance Ross chipped in eight, and TJ Warren made big shots for the second consecutive game. The reserves would outscore Denver’s second-unit 40-11.

The opening half of the first quarter was a familiar scene from the first three games – All-Star guards, and former Kentucky Wildcats, Booker, and Jamal Murray making shots. Booker scored six early, Murray four. At the first media timeout timeout, the Suns led 13-12.

Denver would then go on an 11-2 run as Jokic became more involved in Denver’s offense. A Bruce Brown driving layup pushed the lead to 28-19, forcing as Suns’ timeout.

Phoenix would respond with a 13-6 run to end the quarter, highlighted by Booker’s three-quarter court inbounds pass off a made free throw which Durant caught, turned, and drilled an angle turn-around jumper as the quarter expired trimming the margin to 34-32 as the foldout crowd at Footprint Center erupted. Somewhere Grant Hill and Christian Laettner are smiling. 

“Great pass,” Durant said with a chuckle when asked about the makeshift play. “I just tried to keep my eye on the ball. We ran that play plenty of times growing up.”

Durant was a wide receiver, Booker a quarterback both revealed after the game.

The stars for both teams would continue to shine in a back-and-forth second quarter. Booker, brilliant again, started 8-9 from the field after his 20-25, 47-point explosion in Phoenix’s Game 3 win on Friday.

The Suns’ bench continued to play well, outscoring Denver’s 12-7 as the hosts took a 63-61 halftime lead behind KD’s team-high 21. Jokic was, at times, simply unstoppable, pouring in a first half game-high 24 points on 9-13 shooting. 

An active, and engaged, Ayton grabbed seven rebounds and scored six points through the first two quarters. 

Phoenix got sloppy offensively in the opening minutes of the third quarter, but Durant and Booker helped off-set Jokic’s destruction of Phoenix’s interior defense. Jokic reached 40 points on 15-20 shooting as Ayton exited with his fourth foul.

With 2:42 left in the quarter, Denver entered the penalty and re-gained the lead on two Jokic free throws. However, Phoenix would end the quarter with a flurry, highlighted by a deep Booker three in closing seconds.

The Suns would hold a 98-92 lead behind Book’s 36 through three quarters on an insane 14-17 shooting.

“I don’t think too much into it,” Booker said of his hot shooting. “I’m just taking what the defense gives me…I don’t usually get open shots. This is new thing. I’m just trying to put defenses in tough situations.”

With Booker resting, the Suns’ bench helped pick up the slack. Another timely Shamet 3-pointer extended the lead to 108-100, forcing Denver head coach Mike Malone to burn a timeout with 7:33 to play.

The teams would essentially trade baskets before another Shamet three brought the house down, pushing the margin to 116-106 with under five minutes to play.

“His mentality is something that we need,” Williams said of Shamet. “His shot making against their coverage is huge for us. To see guys overcome the mental challenges the NBA presents every single player. It’s a skill to do that. That’s who he’s been. You love to see guys like that who put the work in succeed.”

The resilient Nuggets refused to quit, a Jokic and-one trimmed the lead to 121-116. Gordon’s put-back dunk made it a one possession game (121-118) with two minutes to play.

With 45 seconds to play and down by three, Denver challenged an out of bounds call, and won. 

On the next Denver possession, Ayton would outleap Jokic on a key jump ball at the Phoenix free throw line. Warren would be fouled, and hit both free throws giving the Suns a 125-120 lead with 22.4 seconds to play.

Durant dished out six assists and finished 12-13 from the free throw line.

Murray was fantastic, finishing with 28 points, seven assists, and five rebounds. Michael Porter, Jr. and Aaron Gordon each scored 11 for the Nuggets. Porter led Denver in rebounding with 10.

“Our mindset right now is we have a lot more to do,” Williams said. “There’s more work to be done. It’s an even series now.”

Game 5 is Tuesday in Denver. The series will return to the Valley for Game 6 Thursday night.

Buckle up Planet Orange.