Suns were bowled over by Nuggets, Jamal Murray and Math in the Game 1 loss

Jamal Murray (27) of the Denver Nuggets smiles after drawing a hard foul from Chris Paul (3) of the...

DENVER – The Phoenix Suns will no longer make do with being more talented. That stopped as soon as the ball got airborne for Game 1 of Round 2 on Saturday against the Denver Nuggets.

In fact, the nuggets looked more talented. In addition to their great individual plays, they were also much better as a team, beating the Suns with a great first shot, 125-107.

Phoenix got gutted in math for the first two quarters and it put them in a pit they couldn’t escape from. Kevin Durant had the stat sheet in front of him after the game and kept referring to Denver making 17 more shots and he turning it over seven times for nearly half of Phoenix’s 16.

Largely thanks to +9 on offensive rebounds and +4 on turnovers, the Nuggets attempted 15 more shots in the first half. Also, they made seven more 3s and took a dozen more. The Suns’ prolific first-round free-throw shooting didn’t translate to the start, as Denver also scored +2 there.

In categories that simply boil down to effort and dedication, being beaten so badly was actually what the Suns used to do her opponents in the last two years. It’s even worse doing it on a show like this that’s so in the middle. Denver was excellent, as a No. 1 seed should be, and the Suns were on the backfoot for most of the night because of it.

“I thought they were just more physical, played with more power, especially in the second quarter,” Suns head coach Monty Williams said. “We lost a bit of momentum there. And the ownership difference. Turnovers and offensive rebounds just destroyed us tonight.”

This is how you lose a half by 15 if you shoot 55%.

“If you look at the stat sheet, they have [101] Shots up, we’ve got 84,” Durant said. “They did 37 3s, we did 23. They did 16, we did seven. It’s a make-or-miss league. We can talk about a lot of different things that are developing in our league, like going back on defense, making that extra pass, but if you just make more shots than your opponent then you have a good chance of getting a basketball game to win, and they did. ”

While this is certainly the way to lose a game, most of the time basketball offers multiple chances to get back in the game.

Window one came early in the third quarter when Phoenix was 12 behind. Collapsed possession forced a jumper from Chris Paul, a great block from Devin Booker was followed by a missed layup from Torrey Craig, and then an offensive rebound from Nuggets led to a Nikola Jokic 3. Phoenix’s next miss resulted in a miss from Deandre Ayton from the short throw and it was down 15 again when it could easily have been in single digits.

The second window saw the start of the fourth quarter, 13 behind, as the Suns scored on five straight possessions only to allow the Nuggets to do the same. A conversion error on a Jeff Green layup was pinched by two Jamal Murray buckets, and the “Blue Arrow” fired a dagger 3 shortly after to put Denver down to 17 with 6:57 left, which wrapped him up.

Murray savored the chance to face Phoenix in the postseason after missing the 2021 series through injury. His shooting was great and the Suns had no answers on how to defend him. He had a game-high 34 points and nine assists on 13-of-24 shooting with two steals.

If there’s another game in this series, if Denver has the best player and it’s not Jokic, the suns are set.

“Let’s be honest – some of the shots that he took, I don’t think anybody could have stopped him tonight,” Williams said of Murray. “But we have to do something else in our plans to stop him from getting the ball or getting the ball out of his hands.”

Aaron Gordon, who had 36 points overall in the four-game sweep two years ago, was fantastic offensively with 23 points in 9-on-13.

And even though back-to-back MVP Jokic had an off-night shooting of 9-for-21, his plentiful contributions of 24 points, 19 rebounds and five assists were more than enough.

Durant was outstanding, even with the seven turnovers and one assist, and Booker played damn well, too. But no one else had much of an impact. Again, the Suns can no longer win this way. Teams are too good at this stage of the playoffs. Booker went back into downhill maniac mode from round one in the fourth quarter, but that hardly mattered, unlike the switch flip that was so effective against the Clippers.

Durant had 29 points and 14 rebounds while Booker added 27 points with eight assists.

Ayton found some rhythm in the brief goalscoring role but was passed by Jokic. The latter is far, far more important, and if that’s a trend, it’s a huge handicap for the Suns to try to offset. Chris Paul was less on the ball and couldn’t find flow to swing the game from there.

Williams went with Landry Shamet as the first sub to keep some size in the backcourt and have another option to defend Murray. That didn’t go well at all. Murray was very confident in treating Shamet as a mismatch and it looked like he would, although Shamet played really good defense on a couple of possessions.

Sometimes in such situations only trust is important.

Given the lack of 3-point attempts – Murray’s dagger was his sixth 3-pointer and the Suns only had five at the time – it seems like this should be a role that should be returned to Cam Payne. Denver hasn’t been good at containing dribble penetration, and that’s Payne’s bread and butter. He would generate 3s that way, and Craig did the best job of all on Murray anyway. Josh Okogie was back in the starting lineup to face Murray and played well, fighting through some action to contain Murray.

Denver came off the bench small, as expected, and Phoenix stayed at a traditional backup 5. The results were mixed. The Suns did a good job running the offense through the centers, but it wasn’t decisive enough and Denver still won those minutes.

Phoenix had 20 assists and 16 turnovers, good for a 1.25 assist-to-turnover ratio. On Saturday, he led the league third with a 2.18 for the playoffs and a 2.01 for the regular season.

Williams and Ayton both stated that ball motion wasn’t good enough, with Williams saying the ball was “sticky” at times. Paul emphasized picking up the pace and taking the blame for it, but a couple of times he could be seen motioning for his team to join him to make a mistake. Eventually, Paul turned to start the break and saw an immobile Ayton right in front of him and slapped him to get to the ground.

Totals outside of the shot attempt discrepancy weren’t particularly brutal for Phoenix. It was beaten 18-7 in points from turnovers, but second chance points were 14-12 Denver and Phoenix won the fast break points 23-20.

What the Suns did wrong is correctable.

“I always believe in us,” Booker said when asked if that was the case. “We’ve been a good team all year to digest the game, see what was going on, learn from it and make those fixes.”

What emerges after Game 1, however, is what the Nuggets got right. They’ve been phenomenal and Phoenix’s reaction in Monday’s Game 2 – win or lose – will be telling.

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