PHOENIX (AP) — Nikola Jokic scored 32 points in another triple-double, Jamal Murray added 26 and the Denver Nuggets advanced to the Western Conference finals for the first time since 2020 by beating the short-handed Phoenix Suns 125-100 in Game 6 on Thursday night.
Denver’s series victory comes two seasons after the Nuggets were embarrassed in a second-round postseason sweep by the Suns. This time, it was the Suns getting blown out on their home floor to end the season for the second straight year.
The Nuggets will play in the conference finals for the first time since they lost to the Lakers in five games in the Florida bubble during the COVID-19 pandemic. They have never reached the NBA Finals.
The top-seeded Nuggets used a 23-2 run during the latter part of the first quarter to take a 44-26 lead and never looked back. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope — averaging 9.5 points in the playoffs — scored 17 in the first quarter while Jokic added 14.
Caldwell-Pope finished with 21 points. Jokic shot 13 of 18 from the field and added 12 assists and 10 rebounds.
Denver’s offensive onslaught continued in the second as the lead grew to 81-51 by halftime, leading to boos from Suns fans as players made their way to the locker room. The second half was essentially an afterthought.
Cameron Payne scored 31 points for Phoenix, hitting 7 of 9 3-pointers. Kevin Durant added 23.
The Suns were playing without injured starters Deandre Ayton and Chris Paul. Ayton sustained a rib contusion in Tuesday’s Game 5 while Paul has been out the past four games with a strained left groin.
Phoenix was eliminated in the Western Conference semifinals at home for a second straight season despite a blockbuster trade deadline deal for Durant, a 13-time All-Star and one of the game’s most prolific scorers. The 34-year-old had some good moments in the playoffs, but made just 1 of his first 10 shots on Thursday as the Suns fell into a huge hole.
Suns guard Devin Booker was brilliant in most of the postseason, averaging 36 points per game on 60% before Game 6. But the three-time All-Star finished with just 12 points on Thursday.
The home team won the first five games of the series until the Nuggets broke through in Game 6.
For the Suns, the loss was eerily similar to Game 7 of last year’s Western Conference semifinals.
Phoenix, with the NBA’s best record, fell behind Dallas by 30 points by halftime and ended up losing 123-90 to end its season.
In the shot clock era, the home team has trailed by 30-plus points in a potential playoff elimination game just three times. Phoenix is now responsible for two of them. The other was the Bucks in 2015.
Nuggets: Murray was listed as questionable before the game with a non-COVID illness. Murray got a big hug from Nuggets coach Michael Malone as he checked out of the game for the final time.
Suns: Jock Landale finished with 13 points and five rebounds, starting in place of Ayton. … Hosted their 80th consecutive sellout crowd, counting regular season and postseason games. … The Suns have never won a title since coming into the league in 1968.
AP NBA: https://apnews.com/hub/NBA and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports