PHOENIX — Chris Paul is a 36-year-old man who can still put together an NBA point guard’s version of a virtuoso performance: Fifteen assists, no turnovers and it led to another blowout playoff victory for his rolling Phoenix Suns.
“I feel good,” Paul said. “I feel really good.”
The ageless Paul added 17 points, Devin Booker had 18 points and 10 rebounds, and Phoenix routed the Denver Nuggets 123-98 on Wednesday night to take a 2-0 lead in the Western Conference semifinals.
Deandre Ayton had 15 points and 10 rebounds, and Mikal Bridges added 16 points for the balanced Suns in their fifth straight victory.
Paul was particularly impressive and it appears his ailing right shoulder — which greatly limited his play against the Los Angeles Lakers in the first round — isn’t much of a problem anymore. The 11-time All-Star had 21 points and 11 assists in Game 1.
Nikola Jokic had 24 points and 13 rebounds for Denver, a day after getting the NBA’s Most Valuable Player award. But the Nuggets couldn’t find anyone else to score consistently, leaving them reeling going back to Denver for Game 3 on Friday night.
“This was an embarrassing performance for myself all the way to the last player,” Denver coach Michael Malone said. “We are walking out here with our heads held down and rightfully so. There was a reason that their crowd was yelling ”Suns in four!” and they are calling for a sweep because if we play like this in Denver, this is going to be a really quick series.”
Later, Malone added he felt the Nuggets “quit tonight, which is something that you never want to see.”
Said Jokic: “They are playing better than us. They are making shots, being more aggressive, finding the open man. It looks real bad out there. We need to change everything.”
The Suns had a 10-point halftime lead and Jae Crowder added a pair of 3-pointers early in the third to make it 60-43. Phoenix took an 86-67 advantage into the fourth. The Suns led by 31 in the final quarter as they relentlessly pushed the ball even as the lead built.
Crowder had another good night as the Suns’ long-range shooter and enforcer. He and Denver’s Aaron Gordon were each called for a technical foul after they exchanged words and shoves midway through the third. On the next possession, Crowder coaxed Gordon into committing an offensive foul, much to the delight of the 16,529 at Phoenix Suns Arena.
Crowder said he isn’t seeking to be the team’s enforcer but the moments keep finding him. He joked that he’s already given too much money to the NBA in the form of fines during this postseason.
“I got to be smart and protect my money a little,” he added grinning.
NBA to start ’21-22 season in October
The NBA told its teams Thursday that it intends to return to a normal schedule next season, with training camps opening in late September and the regular season set to begin on Oct. 19.
A memo that was sent to teams, a copy of which was obtained by The Associated Press, does not specify when the 2021-22 regular season will end — and that’s because it has yet to be officially decided if the play-in tournament will return. If it does, and there are no indications that it won’t, the likely date to end the regular season would be April 10.
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