DENVER — Phoenix Suns star Chris Paul got the switch he wanted to close out the first half of Game 4 of the Western Conference semifinals.
Denver Nuggets star Nikola Jokic was forced to defend the guard out of a pick-and-roll formation. Paul dribbled to the right side of the court to bring the big man out on the perimeter.
Paul danced with the ball in place to keep Jokic on his heels and then he hit him with his patented lean-to-the-right midrange jumper that found the bottom of the net to put his team up eight at intermission.
It was a momentum destroyer at one of the worst times for the Nuggets.
“They can’t guard me!” an amped-up Paul shouted as he walked to the locker room with a fuming scowl on his face.
No lies were detected.
Paul led the charge with a game-high 37 points and seven assists in sweeping the Nuggets 125-118 Sunday night to advance the Suns to the Western Conference for the first time in 11 years.
“A couple of years ago, they were writing me off [saying], ‘You can’t do this.’ This ain’t about me; it’s about us,” Paul said postgame on TNT. “It shows you what you can do when you come together as a team.”
Devin Booker went for 34 points and 11 rebounds in unleashing a premier backcourt duo the Nuggets were unable to regulate.
“Chris Paul could arguably be the greatest point guard of all time. And you know what you have in Devin Booker, just a professional bucket-getter,” Nuggets head coach Michael Malone said. “So, they’re going to be a tough out. You have to tip your cap to them and give them the respect that they deserve.”
Throughout the game, “MVP” chants rained down from the stands.
Jokic — the 2020-21 MVP winner — was playing in his home arena, but the chants were not for him.
Paul — with the help of a mammoth traveling fan base — stole the admiration from Ball Arena and solidified himself as the clear-cut MVP of the series by way of leadership on the court with an abundance of midrange jumpers the Nuggets never had an answer for.
The seven-point win was the closest game of the series. It was remarkable, considering Jokic was ejected in the third quarter after he was called for a Flagrant 2 when he brushed the face of Cameron Payne with a windup foul out of frustration.
Chris Paul had 37 points and seven assists on Sunday. (Dustin Bradford/Getty Images)
“I just didn’t feel it warranted a Flagrant 2 ejection because he was making a play on the ball,” Malone said. “There was marginal contact to Cameron Payne’s nose, I believe. So I was shocked. I’m still a little bit shocked that they called a Flagrant 2 and ejected the MVP on such a play.”
To Jokic’s credit, he walked to Payne at center court before exiting and he congratulated Paul for the win after the game.
“Did I hit him? I didn’t know. So I said sorry If I did, because I didn’t want to injure him or hit him in the head on purpose,” Jokic said. “So I watched the game in the locker room to cool off a little bit.”
How Devin Booker prepared for this moment
The Suns showed so much poise for a young team with multiple players playing in their first playoff games. The Suns’ front office describes the team as just “hoopers about their business.”
Booker has waited for this moment.
He’s relatively quiet off the court, but has a blaring offensive game that usually accompanies players of veteran status. His old-school game fits his love for Chevy classic cars, an affection he shares with his dad and grandfather from being raised in the auto capital state of Michigan.
Add in his adoration for the late Kobe Bryant, and it sums up the force he is on the hardwood.
Yahoo Sports was informed that during Booker’s rookie season, he and then-assistant coach Earl Watson would go to Arizona State University at night to work out and study Bryant’s game-winning moves.
They would watch film and then work on drilling hours of game-winners with the clock winding down. Now as a two-time All-Star and one of the best two-guards in the league, he’s more than comfortable in those pressurized situations. And the Suns appear comfortable with ample time to rest before knowing who their next opponent will be between the Utah Jazz and Los Angeles Clippers.
No one expected this would be the outcome at the onset of the series. Is this team capable of a legitimate championship run?
“We’re just going to keep playing hard,” Paul said. “You never know what the future holds.”
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