Suns vs. Nuggets, Takeaway Results: Chris Paul helps Phoenix dominate Denver in Game 2 and takes the 2-0 lead

The Phoenix Suns took a dominant 123-98 win over the Denver Nuggets in Game 2 on Wednesday evening and took a 2-0 lead in the second round series. The win was the fifth straight win for Phoenix this postseason. Chris Paul led the Suns with 17 points, 15 assists and zero ball losses. Paul’s assist-to-turnover ratio on the show is now a staggering 26-1. Devin Booker also added 18 points and 10 rebounds for the billowing suns.

Phoenix appeared to be a step faster than Denver on both ends of the floor in the second game, as it got practically everything it wanted on offense while making it harder for Denver on defense. All five of the Suns’ starters scored double digits, compared to just two for the top five of the nuggets. Freshly minted MVP Nikola Jokic raced the nuggets with 24 points, 13 rebounds and six assists, but his performance wasn’t nearly enough, especially with minimal help from the guys around him. Going forward, Nuggets coach Mike Malone will have to find a way to get his team going, especially Aaron Gordon and Michael Porter Jr. who together only got 17 points on the 6-of-20 shootout in Game 2.

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The only good news for the Nuggets right now is that the series for Games 3 and 4 is moving to Denver. Obviously the Nuggets will play better there than they could in Phoenix. Unfortunately for Denver, the math isn’t on the side. A total of 430 playoff series started 2-0, and only 28 times did the team that gained the early advantage fail to win the series, per Land of Basketball. That’s less than seven percent of the time. The most recent example of this came in the first round of that year when the Los Angeles Clippers defeated the Dallas Mavericks in seven games after losing the series’ first two games. So it’s not an impossible feat, but an unlikely one. The Nuggets obviously can’t think about the odds as their full focus must be on Game 3, which is scheduled for Friday night. Before you move on to this game, however, here are three key takeaways from Game 2.

1. CP3 hosts a playmaker clinic

Chris Paul is one of the best playmakers in NBA history, and his passing skills were on display in Game 2. Paul dismantled Denver’s defense with an accurate passing game, giving his teammates one open opportunity after the other before competition as the game progressed. By the end, Paul had put together 15 assists, which was the third most common he’d ever had in a playoff game – and he’d played in a slew of playoff games. As impressive as the sheer number of assists he had, Paul didn’t see a single turnover throughout the game. He finished with a 15-0 ratio of assist to turnover.

As striking as Paul’s numbers were, this isn’t the first time Paul has scored at least 15 points, 15 assists, and zero turnover in a playoff game. In fact, it’s not even the second time. Paul has now managed the feat three times – as often as all the other players since 1980 combined.

Paul has now had a game of 15 points, 15 assists, zero turnover in three different decades. Let that sink in for a moment. The guy’s longevity is impressive. Everyone loves to talk about the longevity of LeBron James and rightly so, but Paul should be mentioned in the same breath. Over a decade and a half in his career, Paul still seems to be at the peak of his powers, and he’s a big part of the reason the Suns are now only two wins away from appearing in the conference finals.

2. The nuggets didn’t make their 3s, but kept shooting them

Denver had a rough night from across the arch. The nuggets started slowly from a distance and never fully recovered. They only shot 1 in 13 from deep in the first quarter, but that didn’t discourage them. Instead of saying “Hey, maybe it’s not our night from afar” and attacking the basket, the nuggets just kept firing for 3s. When the last buzzer sounded, the Nuggets had tried 43 3s and only made 14 of them. That’s less than 33 percent – well below the league average.

There are several arguments in favor of relying on a previously successful strategy. Stick with what got you there as they say. However, sometimes adjustments need to be made on the fly. When you have a free night from beyond the arch, mix things up. Go to the edge, pull a few fouls, try to get some easy ones and build on them. That’s basic basketball, but the nuggets didn’t do it in game 2. By continuing to jack up shots from a long distance, the nuggets played straight into the hands of the suns as the missed shots created transition opportunities for Phoenix. In the future, the Nuggets will likely shoot better from a distance, but if not they will hopefully eventually adjust their offensive approach.

3. Denver really misses Jamal Murray on this show

After Jamal Murray went down with an ankle injury in the regular season, many expected the nuggets to sink into the standings. This did not happen as they were instead able to hold their position. Then they were able to pass the Portland Trail Blazers on the first lap without Murray. He was missing, but they were able to do the job without him. That may not be the case on this series, however, as Murray’s absence is evident and his production is badly needed.

Outside of Jokic, the Nuggets have a hard time getting things going offensively. In Game 2, Denver’s guard trio Austin Rivers, Facundo Campazzo and Monte Morris combined only 12 points on 4-of-19 shooting. They were heavily outplayed and overproduced by the Phoenix backcourt for the second game in a row, and their front-court duo of Aaron Gordon and Michael Porter Jr. did not fare much better. Nobody appears and takes on this supporting role alongside Jokic – Murray’s role. When he’s outside, Murray is the kind of guy who can pick up a bucket practically anytime, especially if the defense turns Jokic on. Only last season he had two 50-point performances in the first round against Utah. Murray scores, and for the first time since his demise, it’s extremely evident how much Denver misses him. Without him, the talent gap on the show might be too big to cross Denver.

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