FOX Sports NBA Analyst
The Story of Game 3 between the Denver Nuggets and the Phoenix Suns: Too Much Devin Booker. And maybe too much Jamal Murray.
They may have to come up with a new description for shooting with great efficiency after Booker scored 47 points in the Suns’ 121-114 win on Friday, cutting the Nuggets series lead to 2-1. Booker made 20 of 25 shots from the floor, including 5 of 8 3-pointers. This is an 80 percent clip. Seven-foot centers shooting three feet from the edge aren’t usually as efficient, let alone 6-foot-5 guards who mostly thrive on jumpers. “Hot” or “white-hot” or “in the zone” are too mundane for what Booker did.
The only higher percentage associated with the result was Booker and Kevin Durant’s contribution to the Suns offense — they scored or assisted with 106 points, 88 percent of their total. Durant, who wasn’t nearly as efficient as Booker but still hit 39 thanks to 14 free throws, credited Booker with the win.
“He’s been a high-volume, efficient goalscorer since Day 1,” Durant said. “We fed on his energy tonight.”
Nuggets coach Mike Malone didn’t attempt to describe Booker’s performance, but he did have a word for how his team defended him.
“Unacceptable,” he said. “We made him do 3-pull-ups.”
Jamal Murray once again attempted to repeat the performance he had three years ago in the COVID-necessary Orlando Bubble Playoffs as he led the Nuggets to the Western Conference Finals by approaching a Booker-like scoring efficiency and averaged 26 points while shooting 50 percent overall and 45 percent from beyond the arc.
Maybe he just tried too hard to be Bubble Murray that night. The ball never left his hands too often in the second half as he circled the floor, looking for mismatches and then trying to create a shot. He had as much possession as two-time MVP Nikola Jokic and produced about half of the offense. Jokic’s stat line was almost as striking as Booker’s: 30 points, 17 assists, 17 rebounds.
Murray’s? More of an eye roll considering how much possession he had: 32 points from 29 shots, five assists. Murray-Jokic as a two-man show might have worked in the bubble, but if there’s a reason the Nuggets have a chance to go even further this time, it’s because Aaron Gordon and Michael Porter Jr. have a different look on them than last spring when the Nuggets were knocked out in the first round. Porter delivered the game of the night by smashing a dunk on Durant’s head for a three-point game that relegated Denver with 2:05 to go with five minutes. That was the last of Porter’s nine points in the last four and a half minutes for 21st overall.
Gordon had just nine points and seven rebounds in 39 minutes, but all the points came in the third quarter when he fueled Denver’s comeback from a halftime deficit of 15 points. Midway through the period, he sealed Booker on his back, took a lob from Jokic and dunked on both Booker and Landry Shamet to cut the Suns’ lead to three. Angry that he didn’t get a foul call, he then smothered an attempted layup by Shamet at the other end, leading to a layup by Murray that reduced the lead to one.
All early attempts to generate a shot on his own left Murray were too gassed to put down open shots from his teammates. He finished with 32 points but only had four on 1-of-8 shooting in the fourth quarter, including 0 for 4 on 3s.
“I wore that,” he said. “My teammates found me too late. I have to be able to complete the course, so it hurts me personally.”
Does this mean the Suns are capable of pulling an upset over the top-seeded Nuggets even without point guard Chris Paul, who missed Game 3 with a groin injury?
Well, if their reserves can keep playing against the Nuggets — they beat them 22-21 — and Durant and Booker can hit nearly 90 points alone three more times, sure. They might need the nuggets to miss repeated putbacks on the rim, like they did on the stretch by hitting eight offensive rebounds but scoring just four second-chance points in the fourth quarter.
Playing with the same desperation would also help.
“I told our guys no team came back from a 3-0, you know what you’re getting ready for,” Malone grumbled. “We still have to get much better.”
Ric Bucher is an NBA writer for FOX Sports. He previously wrote for Bleacher Report, ESPN The Magazine and The Washington Post and has authored two books, Rebound, about NBA forward Brian Grant’s battle with early-onset Parkinson’s disease, and Yao: A Life In Two Worlds. He also has a daily podcast, On The Ball with Ric Bucher. Follow him on Twitter @Ric Bucher.
Get more from the National Basketball Association Follow your favorites to get information about games, news and more