PHOENIX SUNS

Suns, 76ers look to avoid daunting 3-1 series deficits in Sunday matchups with Nuggets, Celtics

May 7, 2023, 12:17 PM | Updated: 12:39 pm

Phoenix Suns forward Kevin Durant (35) celebrates during the second half of Game 3 of an NBA basket...

Phoenix Suns forward Kevin Durant (35) celebrates during the second half of Game 3 of an NBA basketball Western Conference semifinal game against the Denver Nuggets, Friday, May 5, 2023, in Phoenix. The Suns defeated the Nuggets 121-114. (AP Photo/Matt York)

(AP Photo/Matt York)

The Phoenix Suns and Philadelphia 76ers are looking to avoid the dreaded 3-1 hole in a playoff series.

Teams that go up 3-1 win NBA playoff series a whopping 95.3% of the time.

The good news is the Phoenix Suns are a franchise that has one of the 13 teams to overcome a 3-1 series deficit and still win the series. The year was 2006 and that Suns team, led by Steve Nash, beat the Los Angeles Lakers in the first round.

Ironically, the Denver Nuggets did it twice in 2020, beating the Utah Jazz in the first round and the Los Angles Clippers in the Semifinals.

Unfortunately, the Suns franchise also has one of the few teams to lose a 7-game series after being up 3-1 when Charles Barkley, Kevin Johnson and the other members of the 1995 squad dropped a Semifinal series to the Houston Rockets.

To avoid a 3-0 deficit Friday, Devin Booker and Kevin Durant combined for 86 points in Phoenix’s 121-114 win over the Denver Nuggets in Phoenix to stay alive in the series, albeit down 2-1.

They were the only two Suns players with more than seven points. Chris Paul was out with a groin injury and DeAndre Ayton was slowed by foul trouble and tentativeness at times. Ayton finished with 4 points, 9 rebounds and 4 personal fouls. He was 2-6 from the field with one turnover.

Kevin Durant scored 39 points. Devin Booker scored 47 points, shooting 20 of 25 from the field, including 5 of 8 from 3-point range, to keep the Suns alive headed into Sunday’s Game 4 in Phoenix.

James Harden, Durant’s former teammate during an ill-fated run in Brooklyn, showed in Game 1 he could still be as great once as he ever was in his prime. The Beard just overall these days isn’t as great as he once was in his halcyon days with Houston.

Harden’s occasional big postseason games for the 76ers — like the 45 points he dropped against Boston in a Game 1 win — now come with immediate fallout.

Like Game 2, when Harden shot 2 of 14 in a loss.

Or Game 3, when Harden had 3-for-14 shooting for 16 points in, yes, another loss.

For those keeping score at home, Harden’s 5-for-28 shooting the last two games is the worst for him over any two-game span in his career — that includes regular season or playoffs — in which he’s attempted at least 20 shots.

Yikes.

Harden brushed off concerns about his play, especially his odd Game 3 tendency of passing on open looks.

“I’m pretty good on basketball instincts,” Harden said. “I know when to score. I know when to pass, so I’m pretty sure a lot of it was the right play.”

Harden took a so-called discount (opting out of a $47.4 million deal this season to sign a more team-friendly extension) to chase a championship with reigning MVP Joel Embiid and the Sixers. The 10-time All-Star has a $35.6 million player option for the 2023-24 season and he will likely decline it and chase more riches in another market.

NUGGETS AT SUNS

Nuggets lead 2-1. Game 4, 5 p.m. Arizona time, today, ESPN

— NEED TO KNOW: The Suns won their first game of the series in Game 3 thanks to another huge effort from Devin Booker, who scored 47 points on 20 of 25 shooting. Kevin Durant added 39. They’ll probably need a similar effort to win Game 4 considering 12-time All-Star point guard Chris Paul is expected to be out once again with a strained groin.

— KEEP AN EYE ON: The Jokic-Ayton matchup. Denver star Nikola Jokic had another huge game in Game 3 with 30 points, 17 assists and 17 rebounds. On the other hand, Ayton had arguably the worst game of his playoff career with just four points and nine rebounds in 26 minutes. Ayton was so ineffective that the former No. 1 overall pick was benched in favor of Jock Landale in the fourth quarter. The Suns still won but that’s a trend that probably can’t continue if Phoenix is going to win the series.

— INJURY WATCH: Outside of Phoenix’s Paul, both teams are relatively healthy.

— PRESSURE IS ON: Booker. The three-time All-Star is averaging more than 36 points per game in these playoffs and its fairly clear that he has to continue his Hercules-style production if the Suns hope to advance.

The Associated Press and AP Sports Writer David Brandt in Phoenix contributed to this report.

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