Scoring explosion from Devin Booker,  Kevin Durant lifts Suns to Game 3 win

MUCH NEEDED WIN FOR SUNS: The Denver Nuggets' Michael Porter Jr. (1) attempts a 3-point shot over the Phoenix Suns' T.J. Warren (21) during the first half of Game 3 of the Western Conference second-round playoff series at Footprint Center on Friday, May 5, 2023, in Phoenix. Christian Petersen/Getty Images/Tribune News Service

PHOENIX — Phoenix Suns coach Monty Williams found no reason to sugarcoat his team’s situation as the earliest arrivers to the Footprint Center started to file in here Friday evening.

“It’s a game that we all know we need,” he said. “There’s nothing wrong with admitting that truth and then it’s like, do the things necessary to get it done, that’s it.”

Phoenix’s superstar duo made sure the Suns got it done. The Nuggets will not sweep. Series on.

Devin Booker (47 points) and Kevin Durant (39 points) combined for 86 points in a 121-114 Game 3 win over Denver to make it 2-1 in the Western Conference semifinals. Game 4 is here Sunday.

Nuggets center Nikola Jokic put together another resplendent outing with 28 points, 17 rebounds, and 17 assists. Twice in the final 2:30 he passed up good opportunities from beyond the arc to get wide-open looks for Jamal Murray (32 points), but Murray missed both and Denver never got closer than five points in the closing minutes.

With Phoenix point guard Chris Paul out due to a groin injury suffered in Game 2, Denver coach Michael Malone said he expected Durant and Booker to be extra aggressive facing a 2-0 deficit and staring into the abyss that is a three-game deficit in the NBA postseason. He implored his team to be “ready for anything.”

The Nuggets got a full blast of the Suns’ superstar duo.

Booker hit 12 of his 15 shots for 27 points in the first half while Durant, who shot six free throws in the first two games of the series in Denver, converted 11 of 12 from the line in the first half and had scored 21 by intermission. The duo’s scoring powered a 67-52 halftime lead that swelled to as many as 16 in the opening minute of the third quarter.

Denver showed its mettle and climbed back into the game in front of a juiced Footprint Center crowd.

The Nuggets turned a 69-54 deficit into a 79-78 lead in 6 minutes, 25 seconds of dominant third-quarter play, sparked by an 11-point burst from Murray and a 12-of-21 shooting performance overall in the period.

Jokic had booked his ninth postseason triple-double midway through the third quarter.

Soon after Denver took the lead, the Suns’ explosive duo hit right back.

On the strength of two tough Booker finishes and a Durant dunk in transition, Phoenix opened the fourth quarter on a 9-0 run to push its advantage back to 11.

While Booker and Durant handled the heavy lifting and then some, the Nuggets have relied on depth and consistency through their hot postseason start. They got too little early on Friday night. Aaron Gordon picked up three first-half fouls, missed all five of his shots in the first 24 minutes and had one rebound. The Suns turned two Michael Porter Jr. turnovers early into transition points.

Nothing came quite so easily on the road for Denver as their series lead was halved.

“If I have to speak to them about urgency, we’re in trouble and we’re not going anywhere,” Malone said before the game. “I think our guys understand, we were in first place in the West for more than 100 days. When healthy and when playing the right way, we feel that nobody can beat us. That’s kind of the mentality that we have right now and the confidence that we have.

“But we’ve had no adversity in the postseason yet. Things have gone really, really smooth. And adversity is coming. It’s knocking on the door. And we have to be ready for that. Knowing our guys, I think we will be.”