What was a star-studded matchup featuring three of the NBA’s premier offensive talents ended with a whimper on Thursday night, as the Denver Nuggets thumped the Phoenix Suns in a 125-100 Game 6 road win to advance to the Western Conference finals for the first time since the bubble in 2020, and the third time since 1985. The Nuggets will face the winner of the series between the Golden State Warriors and Los Angeles Lakers, which L.A. leads 3-2.
Denver absolutely blitzed the Suns on Thursday, building a 30-point first-half lead. Interestingly, it was the second consecutive year that the Suns trailed by 30 points at halftime of an elimination game, following last postseason’s Game 7 loss to the Dallas Mavericks — which also came in Phoenix.
The Nuggets did what they did all series, dominating with their beautiful, free-flowing offense helmed by arguably the best in the business in Nikola Jokic. While Denver received consistent contributions from the likes of Jamal Murray, Michael Porter Jr. and Aaron Gordon throughout the series, the Suns struggled to get significant production from any players besides Devin Booker and Kevin Durant. Perhaps worn down from carrying such a tremendous load, both Booker and Durant struggled in Game 6 as the team was eventually eliminated.
Here are some takeaways from Denver’s series victory, as they await their conference finals opponent.
Jokic got … better?
Just when it seemed impossible, Jokic took his game to even another level this series, logging some of the most absurd stat lines in playoff history. He put up 53 points on 20-for-30 shooting in Game 4, while dishing out 11 assists. That game might not even have been his most impressive either, as he logged 30 points, 17 rebounds and 17 assists in Game 3. Jokic became the third player in NBA history to average a 30-point triple-double in a playoff series, the others being LeBron James against the Warriors and Russell Westbrook against the Rockets, both of which came in 2017.
Overall, Jokic showed that he’s not only arguably the most talented offensive player in the NBA, but also that he’s capable of feeling out what his team needs. Offense is sluggish? Go for a 50-piece. Getting doubled? Read the defense and find the open man. Team needs a kickstart? Push the owner of the opposing team (just kidding … sort of).
There seems to be this narrative that Jokic doesn’t deserve regular-season MVPs if his team doesn’t win a championship. That logic seems silly, but Jokic is clearly proving that even if Denver doesn’t take home the Larry O’Brien trophy, it will be through no fault of his own.
MPJ is A-OK
Porter’s effort and effectiveness have wavered throughout his tenure with the Nuggets, but he provided consistent production on both sides of the floor against Phoenix. He scored in double figures in every game but one, knocking down 11 combined 3-pointers in Games 3 and 5. With Jokic and Murray drawing so much attention, it’s vital that Porter not only hit 3s, but also be able to make the right play attacking closeouts.
The biggest knock on Porter thus far in his career has been on defense, where he’s likely never going to be a standout. However, he used his length well enough in this series against Booker and Durant not to be a significant negative, which is acceptable considering how important he is offensively. Whether they play Golden State or the Lakers, Denver will need Porter to continue his quality effort.
If there’s one advantage that the Nuggets will have over the Warriors or Lakers, it’s their continuity. Michael Malone has settled on a tight, eight-man rotation that doesn’t waver until garbage time. That’s in contrast to the Lakers — whose team has had very little time to jell since the major trade deadline shakeups — and the Warriors, who have desperately been seeking the right combination of supporting characters for the entire season.
On both ends, Denver plays like a team that knows itself, and that can be extremely beneficial in a seven-game series, when a “feel out game” can mean the difference between a trip to the NBA Finals and heading to Puerto Vallarta.