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Nikola Jokic triple-double as Denver Nuggets down Phoenix Suns

Nikola Jokic delivered his third triple-double of the series, scoring 32 points with 10 rebounds and 12 assists. PHOTO: REUTERS

PHOENIX – The Denver Nuggets, who were in their usual aggressive mood, crushed the Phoenix Suns 125-100 on the road on Thursday to become the first team to reach the National Basketball Association (NBA) conference Finals.

The Western Conference top seeds dominated from start to finish in Phoenix as they polished off the Suns 4-2 in their best-of-seven semi-final series.

With the victory, the Nuggets reached the conference Finals for the first time since the Covid “bubble” in Florida in 2020 and will face either reigning champions Golden State or the Los Angeles Lakers.

Two-time NBA Most Valuable Player Nikola Jokic delivered his third triple-double of the series, scoring 32 points with 10 rebounds and 12 assists.

The centre said that the team shrugged off the idea of a “hostile environment” at the Footprint Centre and played with “the same mindset that we are playing with at home” – just being aggressive.

“And I think we did that,” Jokic told ESPN.

“We were the aggressors the whole game. Especially the first half. We were just really good.”

The Nuggets silenced the Phoenix crowd as they dominated virtually every facet of the game on the way to an 81-51 half-time lead – which sparked a smattering of boos from home spectators.

Jamal Murray, who was questionable to start because of illness, scored 26 points and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope added 21 for Denver, who out-scored the Suns 62-46 in the paint, out-rebounded them 41-29 and had 18 second-chance points to the Suns’ seven.

“When we defend, when we rebound, when we run, when we share the ball, we believe we’re the best team in the NBA,” Denver coach Michael Malone said.

“And tonight, we showed it.”

Cameron Payne drilled seven of nine three-pointers on the way to 31 points for Phoenix. Kevin Durant added 23 and Devin Booker 12.

But with veteran point guard Chris Paul missing a fourth straight game with a groin injury and centre Deandre Ayton ruled out with a rib injury, the Suns endured another embarrassing exit after their 2022 elimination on their home floor by the Dallas Mavericks.

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Durant was not around for that one, having arrived in February via a blockbuster trade with Brooklyn. And he did not enjoy this season’s play-offs.

“It sucked,” the two-time NBA champion said.

“It was a bad feeling. It was embarrassing. They came out and hit us in the mouth and we couldn’t recover.”

Phoenix coach Monty Williams, meanwhile, took the blame for his team’s defeat.

“It was deflating to see them score like that and running down the floor getting easy buckets,” he said.

“That falls on my shoulders not having us ready to play at the highest level in the biggest game of the year.” AFP