DAN BICKLEY

Suns turned Game 2 from a playoff game into a house party

Jun 9, 2021, 9:42 PM | Updated: Jun 10, 2021, 12:20 am
Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker (1) celebrates during the second half of Game 2 of an NBA basketbal...

Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker (1) celebrates during the second half of Game 2 of an NBA basketball second-round playoff series against the Denver Nuggets, Wednesday, June 9, 2021, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York)

(AP Photo/Matt York)

The Suns are full of unselfish players. On Wednesday, they turned greedy. They turned a playoff game into a house party. Don’t bother knocking.

Not that long ago, the Suns seemed at their very worst when disinterested or distracted by a marginalized opponent. Not anymore. Not on a night when the entire world was watching, when there were no other NBA games on the menu.

Near the end of this intoxicating 123-98 blowout, the partisan crowd unveiled a new chant:

“Suns in Four! Suns in Four!”

“We just talked about being relentless in everything we do,” Suns head coach Monty Williams said.

They succeeded.

The Suns are also a team that disdained the idea of load management during the regular season, the controversial policy of resting healthy players for long-term gain. But in this soul-crushing win over the Nuggets, the Suns put themselves in a great position to make short work of a lesser opponent, gaining precious rest during the postseason, when it really matters.

If previous playoff victories were a tribute to a fresh, new home-court advantage, Wednesday’s victory was a testament to a deeply connected basketball team. Once considered a title contender because of their two superstar closers (Devin Booker and Chris Paul), the Suns are becoming a juggernaut of camaraderie, balance and ball movement.

Mikal Bridges forged his breakout performance in Game 1. For an encore, it was Dario Saric who got his groove back, much to the delight of another rabid crowd at Phoenix Suns Arena.

Saric’s status has plummeted in recent weeks, just as Ayton has ascended. It’s a testament to Saric’s professionalism that he was ready to meet the moment on Wednesday, giving the Suns a solid block of minutes in Game 2 after being pressed into heavy duty.

Saric made shots, dunked off of a no-look assist from Paul, delivered smart passes and held firm against Nikola Jokic. Suddenly, the biggest fear on Planet Orange (foul trouble for Deandre Ayton) was just another speed bump.

The Suns have won five consecutive playoff games. Their average margin of victory keeps escalating. In eight playoff games, eight of their rotational players have all posted signature games. The starting five has scored in double figures in consecutive games, with no member attempting more than 14 shots. That’s why the Suns feel so dangerous. They are proof that if you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together. And the Nuggets can feel it.

“They have great chemistry together out there,” Torrey Craig said. “You can see it. The ball moves. Everyone knows their spots and their shots. Yeah, their chemistry is unreal, and (the starting five) is playing at a high level right now.”

Said Williams: “I think it’s an unselfish group. They’re willing to make plays for each other. We share the ball. That’s part of our DNA.”

Denver head coach Michael Malone went to great lengths to inspire his team after Game 1, criticizing their mental toughness. The Nuggets responded with two free throw attempts in the first half.

They look like a beaten team. Like a team that knows it is overmatched without the injured Jamal Murray. Like a team that feels grateful to have even reached this point.

After the game, Malone doubled down on his criticism, saying his team quit.

Which is why the Suns must continue to pounce. The Suns are the rare Arizona team with a real chance at the Holy Grail, at the brass ring. They must stay focused at high altitude and finish off a wounded opponent.

In the NBA playoffs, a short series is gold. After Wednesday’s lopsided performance, the Suns are currently in the HOV lane to the Western Conference Finals. And with one victory in Denver, they will flash another championship trait:

The ability to pull over at a rest stop on the long journey to a championship, making their lives easier and the road smoother.

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