Suns vs. Nuggets score, takeaway: Chris Paul helps Phoenix dominate Denver in Game 2, lead the series 2-0

The Phoenix Suns won a dominant 123-98 victory over the Denver Nuggets in Game 2 Wednesday night to take a 2-0 lead in the second round series. The victory was the fifth in a row for Phoenix in the playoffs. Chris Paul led the way for the Suns with 17 points, 15 assists and zero turnovers. Paul’s assist-to-turnover ratio in the series is now 26-1. Devin Booker also added 18 points and 10 rebounds for the soaring Suns.

Phoenix appeared to be a step faster than Denver on both ends of the pitch in Game 2, as he got virtually everything he wanted on the offensive end while making it tough defensively for Denver. The Suns ‘five starters scored in double digits, compared to just two for the Nuggets’ top five. New MVP Nikola Jokic paced the Nuggets with 24 points, 13 rebounds and six assists, but his output was nowhere near enough, especially with minimal help from the guys around him. Going forward, Nuggets coach Mike Malone will need to find a way to get his team started, especially Aaron Gordon and Michael Porter Jr., who combined just 17 points on 6 of 20 shots in Game 2.

The only good news for the Nuggets right now is that the series is set to move to Denver for Games 3 and 4. There, the Nuggets will obviously be looking to play better than they have been able to. Phoenix. Unfortunately for Denver, the math is not on its side. A total of 430 playoffs started 2-0, and only 28 times the team that took the lead failed to win the series, per Basketball ground. It’s less than seven percent of the time. The most recent example occurred in the first round of this year, when the Los Angeles Clippers beat the The Dallas Mavericks in seven games after losing the first two games of the series. So this is not an impossible feat, but it is unlikely. The Nuggets obviously can’t think of the odds as they need to focus fully on Game 3, which is scheduled for Friday night. Before moving on to this game, here are three key takeaways from Game 2.

1. CP3 organized a game making clinic

Chris Paul is one of the best playmakers in NBA history, and his passing ability was fully demonstrated in Game 2. Paul parted the Denver defense with precision passes, and he put his teammates in place with open opportunities after open opportunities during the contest. When all was said and done, Paul had compiled 15 assists, which is tied for the third-highest number he’s ever had in a playoff game – and he’s played in many playoff games. Just as impressive as the number of assists he had, Paul didn’t register a single turnover during the entire game. He finished with an assists-to-turnover ratio of 15-0.

As mind-boggling as Paul’s numbers are, this isn’t the first time Paul has recorded at least 15 points, 15 assists and zero turnovers in a playoff game. In fact, it’s not even the second time. Paul has now accomplished the feat three times – the same number of times as all other players combined since 1980.

Paul has now recorded a game of 15 points, 15 assists and zero turnover in three different decades. Let it sink in for a moment. The longevity of the guy is impressive. Everyone loves to talk about LeBron James’ longevity, and rightly so, but Paul should be mentioned in the same breath. Over a decade and a half into his career, Paul still seems to be near the peak of his powers, and he’s largely the reason the Suns are just two wins away from an appearance in conference final.

2. The Nuggets did not make their 3, but continued to shoot them

Denver has had a rough night beyond the arc. The Nuggets started out slow at long distance, and they were never quite able to recover. They only shot 1 of 13 from the bottom of the first quarter, but that didn’t deter them. Instead of saying “hey, maybe this isn’t our long distance night” and looking to attack the basket, the Nuggets just kept shooting 3s. When the final buzzer sounded, the Nuggets had attempted 43 3s and had only managed 14. That’s less than 33% – well below the league average.

There is something to be said for building on a previously successful strategy. Stick to what got you there, as they say. Sometimes, however, adjustments have to be made on the fly. When you spend an evening beyond the arc, mix things up. Go to the edge, draw faults, try to get a few easy ones and build from that. It’s grassroots basketball, but the Nuggets didn’t make it in Game 2. By continuing to increase long-range shots, the Nuggets played straight into the hands of the Suns as misfires led to transition opportunities for Phoenix. Going forward, the Nuggets will likely shoot better at long range, but if not, hopefully, they’ll eventually adjust their offensive approach.

3. Jamal Murray really misses Denver in this series

After Jamal Murray injured his ankle in the regular season, many expected the Nuggets to collapse in the standings. This did not happen because they were able to maintain their position. Then they were able to pass the Portland Trail Blazers in the first lap without Murray. He was missed, but they were able to get the job done without him. That may not be the case in this series, as Murray’s absence is evident and his production is a must.

Outside of Jokic, the Nuggets are struggling to do anything on the offensive side. In Game 2, the Denver guard trio of Austin Rivers, Facundo Campazzo, and Monte Morris combined for just 12 points on 4 of 19 shots. They were severely outplayed and outscored by Phoenix’s backcourt for the second game in a row, and their frontcourt duo of Aaron Gordon and Michael Porter Jr. didn’t fare much better. No one steps up and grabs that side role next to Jokic – the role of Murray. When he’s there Murray is a guy who can go for a bucket practically anytime he wants, especially when the defense hits Jokic. It wasn’t until last season that he had two 50-point first-round performances against Utah. Murray can score, and for the first time since falling it’s overwhelmingly obvious how much he misses Denver. Without him, the talent disparity on the show might be too great for Denver to overcome.

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