The Denver Nuggets and Phoenix Suns combined for 82 first-half points in a slog of a start to Monday's Game 2 of the Western Conference semifinals.
But Nikola Jokić and Devin Booker caught fire in a sizzling third quarter before the Nuggets rallied for a 97-87 win to take a 2-0 series lead. Making matters worse for the Suns, they lost starting point guard Chris Paul to a groin injury.
Paul sustained the injury with around five minutes remaining the third quarter while battling for a rebound with Denver's Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. He immediately clutched his left groin after jumping and was slow to join his teammates in the frontcourt on the ensuing Suns possession.
He left for the locker room at the next stoppage in play with 4:32 remaining. The Suns announced in the fourth quarter that he wouldn't return because of left groin tightness.
Denver, meanwhile, closed the gap. Phoenix led 59-51 at the time of Paul's injury. But Jokic scored 18 of Denver's 31 third-quarter points as the Nuggets cut their deficit to 73-70 by the end of the quarter. He traded buckets with Booker as the All-Stars combined for the final 16 points of the stanza.
D-Book and Jokic going back and forth 🔥 pic.twitter.com/OhwBRJAqf1
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) May 2, 2023
Jokic scored eight more points in the fourth as the Nuggets took the lead and pulled away down the stretch, finishing with 39 points, 16 rebounds and 5 assists. Phoenix — already shooting poorly — struggled further from the field as Denver closed the game with a 27-14 fourth-quarter run.
Denver overcame a poor offensive showing from Jamal Murray, who finished with 10 points and 8 assists while shooting 3 of 15 from the field. He missed all nine of his 3-point attempts. But Caldwell-Pope picked up the slack with an efficient 14-point effort while shooting 5 of 6 from the field and all hitting all four of his 3-point attempts. He hit back-to-back 3-pointers in an early fourth-quarter sequence that saw the Nuggets tie the game then take a 76-73 lead.
BACK-TO-BACK KCP TRIPLES.
Nuggets lead by 3 in Q4 ‼️
📺: TNT | Game 2 | DEN leads 1-0 pic.twitter.com/WttX335QnS
— NBA (@NBA) May 2, 2023
The Suns, meanwhile, struggled to find offense outside of Booker, who finished with 35 points, 6 assists and 5 rebounds while shooting 14 of 29 from the field. Kevin Durant scored 24, but required a 10-of-27 shooting night to get there. He hit just 2-of-12 3-point attempts. Deandre Ayton was the only other Phoenix player in double figures with 14.
As a team, the Suns shot 40% from the field and 19.4% (6 of 31) from 3-point distance. They repeatedly missed short corner 3s. The wing depth they traded away to obtain Durant from the Brooklyn Nets at midseason was sorely missed. Josh Okogie, Cameron Payne, Torrey Craig and Damion Lee combined for six points while shooting 2 of 17 from the field. They combined to miss all 11 of their 3-point attempts.
And now a Suns team already struggling with depth heads into Game 3 with an 0-2 hole and the status of its starting point guard in doubt.