Chris Paul is nicknamed “Point God” for good reason: he’s one of the best to ever do that. But most importantly for the 36-year-old, who wants his young Phoenix team to take a 125-118 victory over the Denver Nuggets in Game 4, means Paul and his Suns teammates can rest and watch Utah. Jazz and the Los Angeles Clippers fight for the right to face them in the Western Conference Finals.
Paul was brilliant – he led all scorers with 37 points on 14 of 19 shots, with seven assists – and now he can rest, recover and prepare to start again in the conference final.
Here are five takeaways from Sunday’s decisive game.
The Suns are just serious contenders for the title
Denver Nuggets head coach Michael Malone had modest goals for the team heading into Game 4, losing 3-0 to the Suns and set to become the first team in NBA history to win a series in the best of seven after losing the first three games.
“My only hope is that we haven’t let go of the rope because of what history tells us,” Malone said after Game 3. “My only hope is that Sunday afternoon / evening, whenever this match takes place, our guys show up and fight. I think they deserve it, their teammates deserve it, and our fans deserve it, to go out there and leave it all on the line and you can leave the ground with your head held high.
How they should stay in the lead now that their season is over is up to them to decide after the Suns swept the Nuggets to advance to the Western Conference Finals for the first time since 2009-10 when Steve Nash took them. was leading the point.
But I suggest they can feel reasonably good about themselves, mainly because of who sent them home.
The Suns have been neglected all season, with their rise to second in the Western Conference due to the ups and downs of a compressed and injury-laden season where they have remained healthier than the competition.
But only a fool would view the Suns as anything other than a serious contender to bring a title to the wilderness for the first time since the NBA expanded to Phoenix for the 1968-69 campaign.
Heading into Game 4, the Suns were second in defense, third in field goal percentage, first in assisted field goal ratio and – unsurprisingly – first in winning percentage. The Suns knocked out LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers and swept away league MVP Nikola Jokic.
Look beyond the suns at your own risk.
It may not be pleasant for the Nuggets to have been swept aside, but being overwhelmed by potential NBA champions could ease the sting over time.
La domination de Chris Paul continue
What a moment for Chris Paul this has been. The man has been All-Star 11 times – including the last two seasons – and has been All-NBA or All-Defense 18 times, so it’s not like he’s been overlooked in his career. He will be in the Hall of Fame from the first minute he is eligible after retirement and will be in the mix for any serious discussion about who is the best point guard in NBA history.
But the 16-year-old veteran didn’t just fail to win a title, in some quarters he gained a reputation as a postseason underachiever, in part because he had previously not reached the top. conference final only once in 12 tries and has been eliminated in the first round six times.
It’s ridiculous. Injuries to Paul or his teammates at worst times – his own hamstring pull at the end of Game 5 that kept him from playing Games 6 and 7 when his Rockets were leading 3-2 against juggernaut Golden State Warriors in 2018 the most blatant – were the most blatant. main culprit.
Having to come out of the busy Western Conference where he has played his entire career has been another. But what he’s done over the past two seasons is everything anyone should see to understand his greatness, from taking the surprising OKC Thunder to the playoffs last season and Now guiding the Suns from the 2019-20 play-in tournament to the Western Conference Finals, Paul has shown himself to be the type of player who affects victory at the highest levels of the sport.
Against the Nuggets, Paul did whatever he wanted, using his dribbling to orchestrate a pick-and-roll attack for the Suns, or simply to elbow up for his patented pull-up. He was 12 of 13 in the fourth quarter with eight assists and no turnovers in the first three games.
He didn’t wait in Game 4 as Paul pulled off his six third-quarter shots as the Suns scrambled to fend off the Nuggets. He finished with 25 points in the second half and has a chance to write the only chapter his epic career hasn’t yet.
No more MVPs, and that’s a shame
It will be disappointing not to see Nikola Jokic again in the playoffs. The Nuggets star won the MVP title in a runaway and has proven not only brilliant but also enduring, as he has appeared in every regular season game and was third in minutes played.
Even so, Jokic still had plenty of playoff juice. He averaged 30.7 points and 11.7 rebounds and 5.1 assists in the playoffs while shooting 51% off the ground and 39% on three before putting in the 22-11-4 before being ejected from. controversial way at the end of the third quarter after he found himself and slipped the ball and inadvertently hit the Suns’ Cam Payne in the face with his bicep in the process.
It was a reckless play made in frustration, but he hit the ball first and only got Payne by accident (Jokic quickly apologized to Payne). It was a ridiculous ejection and an informal end to a fantastic season for a largely deserving MVP.
It would have been great to see Jokic play a two-man game with his co-star Jamal Murray, potentially until the NBA Finals. But the Nuggets were in depth when Murray tore his ACL in April, and even a fantastic postseason performance from Jokic couldn’t keep them out of the water long enough.
Raptors can remove a page from Suns’ book
There couldn’t be a better publicity for Kyle Lowry as a free agent point guard in his mid-30s than Paul. Lowry brings many of the same qualities to the game and his team as the Suns star and has also challenged the aging curve.
There must be teams that believe they are the right veteran, far from being competitive, to make the playoffs, to try to win a title. It’s hard to imagine the Suns won’t extend Paul, who might otherwise hit free agency. And if they do, Lowry would be the next likely target.
There aren’t many teams that could afford Lowry, who will likely be looking for a two-year deal in the $ 50 million range, but things can change quickly.
However, the team that should pay the most attention are the Raptors who can win any bidding war and should look at the Suns and think that – assuming a healthy season and one or two off-season additions – If they can do the Conference Finals, why can’t we?
The Raptors are a better team with Lowry and Paul shows how important a veteran leader who can still play can be.
Ayton proves his worth
Popular discussion around the 2018 draft revolves almost exclusively around Luka Doncic and Trae Young, who were taken third and fifth respectively and then traded for each other, with Doncic ending up in Dallas and Young in Atlanta.
They’ve grown into brilliant NBA players who can wear teams and win postseason games on their own, but the No. 1 overall pick has proven worthy as well. DeAndre Ayton would not be picked up first in a new draft – even in the three years since the Suns made the Arizona star the first pick, the value of the big guys who can’t stretch the floor has dwindled .
But Ayton is proving that if the mix is right, he can be part of a very good – and maybe even a great – NBA team.
One of the sources of the Suns ‘success was Ayton’s ability to credibly protect Jokic in a single cover and even carry the game through the Nuggets’ center on offense, either by sprinting to the ground and ending up at the break. , or by showing his high competence. , play soft to the touch and at low position. He finished with 12 points and seven rebounds in Game 4 and 14.3 points and 11.5 rebounds for the series, while shooting 61.5 percent from the floor. Not quite the fireworks that Young or Doncic provide, but that’s what the Suns need, and it just might help them win an NBA championship.