DENVER (AP) – Jamal Murray scored 34 points, hitting six of Denver’s 16 3-pointers, and the Nuggets sprinted past the Phoenix Suns 125-107 on Saturday night in Game 1 of their second-round series.
Reigning back-to-back NBA MVP Nikola Jokic had 24 points and 19 rebounds, while Aaron Gordon finished with 23 points for the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference. But this was the Murray Show, where he went 6 of 10 from 3-point land and frequently exhorted for more noise from the already raucous crowd.
“He’s a bad man,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. “Jamal Murray lives for this.”
Kevin Durant scored 29 points and grabbed 14 boards for the Suns, with Devin Booker adding 27 points and Chris Paul 11. Booker averaged 37.2 points in a first-round series win over the Los Angeles Clippers.
“I thought that they were just more physical, played with more force,” Suns coach Monty Williams said. “We’ve got to regroup and do a much better job of playing with pace on offense.”
Game 2 is Monday night in Denver.
This is a different sort of playoff series than two years ago, when the Suns swept the Nuggets in the second round. Back then, Denver was without Murray after he tore his ACL.
Now healthy, Murray is flashing his 2020 form inside the NBA bubble that helped Denver advance to the Western Conference finals.
“Jamal just continues to add to the legend of playoff Jamal,” Malone said.
Murray had the play of the night when he stole a pass, split defenders Paul and Durant at top speed and knocked in a layup high off the glass. It brought the capacity crowd to its feet.
The dynamic point guard was far from done energizing the fans, hitting a 3-pointer with just under 7 minutes remaining. He implored them for more noise, even holding a hand to his ear.
Leading 106-95 with 7:40 remaining, the Nuggets went on a 14-0 run to put away the game. Denver led by as much as 25 and improved to 38-7 at home through the regular season and playoffs.
The difference was the 3-point line, where the Nuggets outscored the Suns by a 48-21 margin. That and turnovers, where the Suns had 16, including seven by Durant.
“I’ve got to be way more careful with the ball,” Durant said. “I’ve to look to either shoot the ball or make the correct pass. … I dang got near half our turnovers. We’ll be fine. I think we’ve just got to play with confidence, shoot with confidence and see what happens next game.”
To stop Durant, the Nuggets used a multitude of defenders. He went 12 of 19 from the floor, but 1 of 3 on 3-pointers. Durant has 4,730 playoff points to move closer to passing Karl Malone (4,761) seventh place on the NBA’s postseason points leaderboard.
Suns: Williams used his challenge early – with 55.4 seconds left in the first quarter – when Booker was called for a charge on a made a basket. It paid off as the call was overturned and Booker awarded a free throw, which he made. … Deandre Ayton scored 14 points.
Nuggets: Malone called a timeout 32 seconds into the second half to settle his team down. Malone said the conversation was simple: “Wake up,” he recounted. … Bruce Brown had 14 points.
As Paul approaches his 38th birthday next week, Malone said the one thing that hasn’t changed over the years is Paul’s elite competitiveness.
“He’ll be 55 years old, playing in a rec league back in North Carolina, and he’s going to be the same guy,” Malone said. “The guy hates to lose, ultra-competitive and one of the greatest leaders I’ve ever been around. … No matter what stage of his career, he still finds a way to impact winning at a high level.”