Game 3 of the Western Conference Semifinals was virtually a must-win for the Phoenix Suns against the Denver Nuggets and their pair of high-scoring NBA All-Stars pulled through when they were needed the most.
Devin Booker was brilliant all night long as he recorded his third game with at least 45 points this postseason to lead the Suns to a 121-114 victory. With the win, Phoenix avoided falling into a 3-0 hole and they whittled down Denver’s lead in this best-of-seven series to 2-1.
Booker stepped up in the absence of starting point guard Chris Paul who sat out with a groin injury that he suffered in the prior contest. The three-time NBA All-Star scored 18 of the Suns’ 29 points in the opening period and wound up hitting 20-of-25 field goals during the match to finish with 47 points. What made his performance even more impressive was that he only took two free throw attempts, which happened with six seconds left in the game, in over 41 minutes of action.
Aside from his big scoring night, Booker picked up a major chunk of the team’s playmaking responsibilities too with Paul sidelined. He handed out nine assists and he also had six rebounds, three steals, and one block.
What made Booker even more difficult for the Nuggets to cover was that his superstar teammate Kevin Durant had a brilliant showing of his own in Game 3. Durant finished with 39 points, nine rebounds, eight assists, and two blocks.
The 13-time NBA All-Star Durant actually had a slow start to the contest, sinking only one of his seven field goal attempts in the opening period. However, he found his rhythm in the second quarter where he took over from Booker and scored 18 points of his own.
Durant wound up converting only 12-of-31 field goals during the evening, yet, as he has continuously done over the course of his 15-year NBA career, still found a way to put points on the board. The four-time NBA scoring champion made 14-of-16 free throws in the win which was even more impressive when considering that he took 16 of the team’s 18 attempts during the match.
These types of games are exactly why the Suns’ front office was willing to give up so much to acquire Durant last February. The luxury of having both him and Booker on the floor at the same time gives them a chance to win on any given night, regardless of who their opposition is.
Denver topped the West during the regular season and their “Big Three” of Nikola Jokic (30 points, 17 rebounds, 17 assists), Jamal Murray (32 points, six rebounds, five assists), and Michael Porter Jr. (21 points, six three-pointers, 12 rebounds) all had strong games, but it was still not enough to topple Booker and Durant.
Moving forward though, the rest of Phoenix must step up. The Nuggets are likely to adjust their coverage on Booker and Durant which makes it crucial that Deandre Ayton in particular can provide them with a solid contribution. Ayton took only six shots en route to four points in Game 3.
While this series is still far from over, the Suns will need a complete team effort if they are to make it past this Denver team in their quest to return to the NBA Finals and avenge their loss two years ago.