The Denver Nuggets, fueled by 34 points from Jamal Murray, dominated Kevin Durant and the Phoenix Suns 125-107 Saturday in game one of their NBA Western Conference semi-final series.
Denver’s two-time reigning NBA Most Valuable Player Nikola Jokic scored 24 points and grabbed 19 rebounds as six Nuggets players scored in double-digits to give the top seeds a convincing victory against the potentially explosive Suns.
Jokic had gone so far as to say the Suns could be considered favorites in the series, and Phoenix looked dangerous as they connected on 66.7 percent of their shots from the field in a nip-and-tuck first quarter that featured 14 lead changes.
But they led by just one heading into the second period, and the Nuggets inexorably took control to lead 68-51 at halftime.
The Nuggets responded to every run the Suns produced and Phoenix – led by 29 points from two-time NBA champion Durant and with 27 from Devin Booker – didn’t get the deficit below 10 points in the second half.
With five minutes remaining, Phoenix waved the white flag and pulled their stars.
Deandre Ayton scored 14 points and Chris Paul had 11 for the Suns, but Denver had 16 three-pointers to Phoenix’s seven and scored 18 points off 16 Suns turnovers.
Denver out-rebounded Phoenix 49-38.
Murray drained back-to-back three-pointers to launch a 14-0 fourth quarter run that carried the Nuggets to a 120-95 lead.
“Just some big, big shots when they were trying to go on runs—Jamal seemed to stop it almost every time,” Nuggets coach Mike Malone said.
It was more than a glimpse of the impressive form Murray flashed in the 2020 playoffs, when the Nuggets reached the Western Conference finals in the Covid-protective bubble.
But he missed the last two post-seasons after tearing a left knee ligament in April of 2021, an injury that saw him miss all of last season.
“The last two years have been tough not having him,” Malone said. “When Jamal Malone is healthy and locked and loaded we know what he’s capable of.”
Murray himself was delighted to be back in action in the playoffs.
“It’s good to play at the most valuable time of the year and make an impact,” he told broadcaster TNT.
And for anyone surprised by the Nuggets’ dominant performance he had a message.
“We know what we’re capable of,” Murray said. “We’re confident in what we do. We’re going to keep doing what we’re doing, keep proving everybody wrong and just take it one game at a time.”
Denver, who improved to 38-7 at home in the regular season and playoffs, will host game two of the best-of-seven series on Monday.
Durant said he’d simply have to be better in game two.
The former MVP connected on 12 of his 19 shots from the floor but made just one of three attempts from three-point range.
He grabbed 14 rebounds but handed out just one assist with seven turnovers.
“I slipped a couple of times, I threw a couple of bad passes, I only had one assist, seven turnovers –you’re not going to win basketball games like that,” Durant said.
“I’ve got to be way more careful with the ball. I’ve got to either look to shoot the ball or make the correct pass. I put that on me – just keeping the ball in my hands and not trying to make the home run play.”
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