Phoenix should be feeling hot right now.
The Suns pushed Denver six games into the Western Conference semifinals, then watched the No. 1-seeded Nuggets sweep the Lakers to reach the NBA Finals for the first time.
Denver has lost three playoff games in the playoffs.
Two losses were against Phoenix as the series was tied 2-2 before Denver won Game 5 at home and Game 6 by 25 points before an 80e consecutive sold-out crowd of 17,071 at the Footprint Center.
The Suns are the only team to hold the Nuggets under 100 points in a playoff game this season in a Game 2 loss to Denver, 97-87.
It was a winnable streak for the Suns even with Chris Paul missing the last four games with a left groin strain and Deandre Ayton sitting Game 6 with a rib contusion after taking a knee from a driving Bruce Brown in the first half of Game 5 – and being completely dominated by two-time NBA MVP Nikola Jokic.
Monty Williams’ rotations were a mess all series and he didn’t use his timeouts, Kevin Durant shot 22.2% 3-5 and Devin Booker did something on his foot in Game 5 — but the Suns were playing at home with a chance to force a Game 7 in Denver.
Then it all ended.
They lost Game 6 in embarrassing fashion to suddenly end a season that had championship aspirations when Phoenix dealt Mikal Bridges, Cam Johnson, Jae Crowder, four first-round picks and a pick trade to Brooklyn for TJ Warren and Durant just before February 9. trade deadline.
As ugly as Game 6 is with the Nuggets leading by 32 points in the first half taking an 81-51 halftime lead, Game 5 is the one that should really haunt the Suns.
Phoenix overcame a 15-point first-quarter deficit to take a 48-47 lead over a Terrence Ross 3 with 1:39 left in the first half. They entered half-time with just three goals.
Then Denver opened the third quarter on a 7-0 run to take a double-digit lead.
The Nuggets outscored Phoenix, 39-25, in the third and led by as much as 21 points in the quarter, taking a 91-74 lead going into the fourth.
During that same quarter, Durant tied with Brown after pushing Jokic out of the Phoenix side group.
Looking back, that third quarter was the beginning of the end for the Suns.
They lose Game 5 in Denver, get crushed in Game 6 at home, fire Williams two days later and are now looking for someone to replace a guy who coached them to the Finals in 2021 and a franchise of 64 victories the following season by winning NBA Coach of the Year honors.
The Nuggets then swept the Lakers by a total margin of 24 points.
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The Lakers should have won Game 2. Down 10 late in the third quarter before Jamal Murray burned them for 23 points in the fourth quarter in Denver’s win.
They went home for Game 3 to find a way to regroup from a double-digit deficit to increase one with 7:48 left in the fourth, only to give Denver a 13-0 run to go down. 3-0 in the series. .
No NBA team has ever come back from a 3-0 deficit to win a playoff series.
Update. No NBA team has yet risen from a 3-0 deficit to win a series.
How Los Angeles gave up on Game 4 with LeBron James unable to force overtime on that last drive and hinting at him retiring afterward detracted a bit from the outcome, but the Lakers were still swept aside.
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Denver’s toughest playoff challenge to date has been Phoenix.
If the Nuggets take it all on their first-ever trip to the Finals, the Suns should be really warmed up.
They had Denver at 2-2 with all the momentum and lost it — and the series — with a poor third quarter in Game 5 and a horrible Game 6 at home.
Had Phoenix eliminated the Nuggets, a Suns-Lakers streak would have been classic and likely still ongoing.
With home field advantage and the return of Paul and Ayton from injuries, the Suns, not the Nuggets, beat the Lakers to advance to the Finals.
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Do you have an opinion on the current state of the Suns? Contact Suns Insider Duane Rankin at email@example.com or contact him at 480-787-1240. Follow him on Twitter at @DuaneRankin.
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