Three takeaways from Murray, Nuggets tearing apart Suns defense in Game 1

The Denver Nuggets would like to remind you that they have not been healthy the last couple of postseasons. This is what they look like when they are.

Denver led essentially the entire way, pulled away in the fourth quarter and ran and hid in Game 1, winning at home 125-107. Denver is now up 1-0 in the series.

Here are three takeaways from the Nuggets’ Game 1 win.

1) Jamal Murray was the best player on the floor

That is in a game with Kevin Durant. And Devin Booker. And Nikola Jokić.

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Murray from the bubble showed up in Denver and scored a game-high 34 points, hitting 6-of-10 from 3, with nine assists. He was dominant (although if you ask him, it’s simply that he’s healthy again and this is who he is).

The problem for the Suns: Who do they put on Murray to slow him? Chris Paul is not that guy anymore, he’s not got the lateral movement to stay in front of Murray. It’s asking a lot from Booker, who has a big offensive load to carry and would risk foul trouble. Josh Okogie can get the nod, but he hurts the Suns on the offensive end.

Denver got a big game from Aaron Gordon who had 23 points on 9-of-13 shooting. Nikola Jokić was not on top of his game (he missed a lot of tip-in bunnies) and still finished with 24 points, 19 rebounds and five assists.


Durant was efficient for the Suns, scoring 29 points on 12-of-19 shooting, with 14 rebounds; however he had one assist and seven turnovers. He said postgame, “We’re not going to win basketball games like that.”

But this was Murray’s night.

2) 3>2

The Suns have a math problem in this series.

Phoenix is a team of midrange assassins and did a good job getting the ball into the paint — the Suns scored 72 points on 59% shooting on two-pointers in Game 1. That’s eight points more than the Nuggets.

But Denver made 16 3-pointers, while Phoenix made 7 on 23 attempts (30.4%). Denver won the 3-point battle by 27 points. Look at it this way: The entire Suns’ team made only one more 3-pointer than Murray.


In the first half, the Suns had a higher eFG% (57.5% to 55.5%) and Phoenix had shot a very good 51.7% from the midrange and 83.3% at the rim. Those numbers would have the Suns up in most games. But Denver was 9-of-17 from 3 (52.9%). Put more simply, Denver was up 27-6 on points from beyond the arc, and even the efficient shooting of the Suns could not make up the difference.

This is not a fluke. The Durant/Booker/Paul Suns are going to live in the midrange, but Denver has shooters and it’s not like making 16 3-pointers is some insane, unrepeatable number. The Nuggets can do this every game.

While the math is an issue for Phoenix, the bigger problem is they just are not getting stops. Period. They can win from the midrange but if they don’t get stops — specifically if they don’t find someone who can slow Murray and as a team contest better at the arc — all the midrange buckets in the world will not save them.

Another little thing that didn’t impact this game but is something to watch: The Nuggets won the non-Jokić minutes. Denver was +3 for the game when Jokić was on the bench for the competitive portion of the game (Nuggets +7 in the first half in those minutes, -4 in the second half, not counting garbage time). The Suns need to win the non-Jokić minutes.


3) Denver’s defense, depth wore down Phoenix in Game 1

Michael Malone came out with a solid defensive plan against the firepower of the Suns: Keep a player with length on Chris Paul, don’t be afraid to use a wing to defend Deandre Ayton, and blitz every Durant or Booker pick-and-roll. Make the Suns move the ball and work for it, and if they hit the shot you live with it.

However, if the Suns miss, get out and run.

That aggressive approach wore the Suns down over the course of the game and in the fourth quarter the Phoenix offense slowed just enough for Denver to run away.

Malone’s plan allowed the Nuggets to use their depth to their advantage. Bruce Brown had an impressive 25 minutes off the bench scoring 14 and playing good defense, Jeff Green and Christian Braun both made some plays and had quality minutes (Braun is just a pest defensively).


With a Monday-to-Friday break between games two and three in this series, look for Monty Williams to lean heavily on his starters and his core four, knowing they have time to recover before Game 3 back home. Those guys need to come out with some desperation or they will head home in an 0-2 hole.

Here is more on the Nuggets

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