The Suns crushed by the Nuggets, Jamal Murray and the math in Game 1 loss

DENVER — The Phoenix Suns aren’t going to get away with being more talented. It stopped as soon as the ball went in the air for Saturday’s Game 1 of the second round against the Denver Nuggets.

In fact, the Nuggets seemed more talented. Along with their great individual games, they were also much better as a team and beat the Suns with a terrific first punch, 125-107.

Phoenix was gutted in reckoning in the first two quarters and it put them in a pit they couldn’t escape from. Kevin Durant after the game had the stat sheet in front of him and continued to reference Denver taking 17 more shots and returning it seven times for nearly half of Phoenix’s 16.

Thanks in large part to +9 on offensive rebounds and +4 on turnovers, the Nuggets attempted 15 more shots in the first half. Plus, they made seven more 3s and took a dozen more. The Suns’ prolific first-round free throws didn’t carry over to start, as Denver also has +2 there.

Being beaten this heavily in categories that simply boil down to effort and commitment is actually what the Suns used to do to their opponents over the past two years. Worse still is doing it in a series like this that’s so in the middle. Denver was excellent, as a No. 1 seed should be, and the Suns were right on their feet most of the night because of it.

“I thought they were just more physical, playing harder, especially in the second quarter,” Suns head coach Monty Williams said. “That’s where we lost a bit of momentum. And the difference in possessions. Turnovers and offensive rebounds just destroyed us tonight.

This is how you lose half by 15 when shooting 55%.

“When you look at the stat sheet, they have [101] shots, we got 84,” Durant said. “They made 37 3s, we made 23. They made 16, we made seven. It’s a do or miss league. We can talk about a lot of different things that are happening in our league, like coming back on defense, making the extra pass, but if you just shoot more than your opponent, you have a good chance of winning a basketball game and that’s is what they did. ”

While it’s definitely the way to lose a game, basketball will provide multiple chances most of the time to get back in the game.

The first window came early in the third quarter when Phoenix was down 12. A down possession forced a chucked jumper from Chris Paul, an impressive Devin Booker block was followed by a missed layup from Torrey Craig, then a Nuggets offensive rebound led to a Nikola Jokic 3. Phoenix’s next down resulted in a miss from Deandre Ayton on the small roll and he was down 15 when he could easily have been in single digits.

The second window was the start of the fourth quarter with the Suns down 13 when they scored on five straight possessions, only to allow the Nuggets to do the same. A failed conversion on a Jeff Green layup was sandwiched by two buckets from Jamal Murray and the “Blue Arrow” fired a dagger 3 shortly after to put Denver up 17 with 6:57 to go who closed it.

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

If there’s another game in this series where Denver has the best player and it’s not Jokic, the Suns are done.

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

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

And even though MVP Jokic had a 9-for-21 night shot, his numerous contributions of 24 points, 19 rebounds and five assists were more than enough.

Durant was outstanding, even with all seven turnovers and one assist, and Booker played great too. But no one else had much impact. Again, the Suns can’t win this way anymore. The teams are too good at this stage of the playoffs. Booker started going into manic downhill mode again in the first round of the fourth quarter, but it didn’t matter, 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 rhythm in the short turnover as a goalscorer but was passed by Jokic. The latter is much, much more important, and if it’s a trend, it’s a huge handicap for the Suns to try to compensate for. Chris Paul was less on the ball and couldn’t find a flow to turn the game around 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. It didn’t go well at all. Murray was extremely confident in treating Shamet like a misfit, and it looked like it, even though Shamet played really good defense on some of the possessions.

Sometimes in these situations, trust is all that matters.

Given the shortcoming with 3-point attempts – Murray’s dagger was his sixth 3-point mark and the Suns only had five at that point – it seems like that should be a role given to Cam Payne . Denver wasn’t great at containing dribbling penetration and that’s Payne’s bread and butter. He would generate 3s that way, and Craig did the best job on Murray anyway. Josh Okogie was back in the starting lineup to face Murray and played well, managing well to fight through some action to contain Murray.

Denver went small off the bench, as expected, and Phoenix stayed with a traditional save 5. Results were mixed. The Suns did a good job directing the offense through crosses, but it wasn’t decisive enough, and Denver still won those minutes.

Phoenix had 20 assists and 16 turnovers, good for a ratio of 1.25 assists to turnover. He came in Saturday leading the league with a 2.18 for the playoffs and a 2.01 mark for the regular season finished third.

Both Williams and Ayton cited the movement of the ball as not being good enough, with Williams saying the ball was “sticky” at times. Paul insisted on picking up the pace and taking responsibility for it, but there were a handful of times you could see him beckoning his team to join him in a dud. At one point, Paul turned to start the break and saw a motionless Ayton right in front of him and slapped him down the floor.

The overall numbers outside of the shot attempt spread weren’t particularly brutal for Phoenix. He was beaten 18-7 in points on turnovers, but second chance points were 14-12 Denver and Phoenix won the quick points 23-20.

What the Suns did wrong is correctable.

“I still believe in us,” Booker said when asked if that was the case. “We’ve been a good team all year digesting the game, seeing what happened, learning from it and making those fixes.”

What looms after Game 1, however, is what the Nuggets did right. They’ve been phenomenal, and Phoenix’s response in Monday’s Game 2 – whether in a win or a loss – will be telling.

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