20 Second Timeout is the place to find the best analysis and commentary about the NBA.

Wednesday, May 10, 2023

Nuggets Outshine Suns, Take 3-2 Series Lead

Nikola Jokic led both teams in scoring (29 points), rebounds (13), and assists (12)--his 10th career playoff triple double, breaking Wilt Chamberlain's record--as the Denver Nuggets took command early and breezed to a 118-102 win over the Phoenix Suns. Denver can close out the series and advance to the Western Conference Finals for the second time in four years by winning game six in Phoenix on Thursday night. Bruce Brown was sensational off of the bench, pouring in 25 points in 27 minutes, while Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. scored 19 points each. The Nuggets outrebounded the Suns 50-42, and they held the Suns to .432 field goal shooting, which is impressive considering that the Suns have a high-powered offense and the Nuggets are not considered to be a great defensive team.

Devin Booker, who is leading the NBA in playoff scoring this season (35.9 ppg), "slumped" to a team-high 28 points on 8-19 field goal shooting, and Kevin Durant continued his puzzling inefficiency in this series, shooting 10-24 from the field to amass 26 points. Durant led the Suns with 11 rebounds and seven assists. Starting point guard Chris Paul missed his third straight game due to injury, a recurring theme throughout his playoff career. In the previous two games, the Suns scored 121 points and then 129 points to tie the series at 2-2 after falling behind 2-0 while averaging just 97 ppg in two losses. It is interesting to wonder how the Suns would have performed had Paul not sat out: would they have won two high scoring games with Booker and Durant both putting up big numbers, or would the Suns have continued to lose? 

The narrative that often surrounds Paul's teams--and that has been promoted by "stat gurus" for his entire career--is that Paul's efficiency elevates everyone around him and is the driver of the offense. At the very least, in this small sample size of games we see that Booker, Durant, and the Suns are quite capable of scoring a ton of points--and twice beating the number one seed in the Western Conference--without Paul. That is not to suggest that Paul is a bad player or that his presence hurts his team, but it is to suggest that (1) his impact on team success is overrated and (2) to the extent that he impacts team success this impact is not consistently felt in the playoffs: Paul has been front and center for some embarrassing playoff debacles, including last year's 123-90 game seven loss at home to Dallas, and five blown 2-0 series leads (an NBA record for one player).

The Nuggets may be the most under the radar number one seed that we have seen in the NBA for quite some time--not that it matters too much what people who do not understand the sport think, but it is unusual that a consistently successful team led by a two-time regular season MVP is regarded so lightly. Considering the early elimination of the number one overall seed Milwaukee Bucks, and the shaky play of the Boston Celtics--who now trail 3-2 versus the Philadelphia 76ers--a logical argument could be made that the Nuggets should be considered the NBA championship favorites.

Labels: , , , , , ,

posted by David Friedman @ 10:12 AM



At Wednesday, May 10, 2023 10:43:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Paul has obviously been overrated for many years, though I don't think so that much anymore. But, every team can win a game or 2 without their best player in the playoffs at times, though Paul is only #3/#4 on the Suns. PHI is 2-0 in the playoffs without Embiid. Memphis record is level or even better without Morant sometimes, too. Having Paul would definitely benefit Phoenix, but would it be enough to beat Denver? Phoenix won both their home games, which is easier than road games when a team is missing players.

Denver only won 53 games, which is pretty low for a #1 seed. Also, in 8 seasons with Jokic, they've only 5 playoff series so far. So, I would definitely not label them as successfully consistent. I understand how lightly they've been regarded this postseason. They looked a little shaky closing out a very mediocre Minnesota team. And this Phoenix team does not look very good either. Even if Booker/Durant absolutely go off every game, Phoenix has little else after that. And Durant is struggling a lot.

At Wednesday, May 10, 2023 6:36:00 PM, Anonymous Kevin said...

It is a little unusual for a team like this to be overlooked. Back to back MVP who is about as dominant as any big in recent memory (not saying much because after Shaq and Duncan declined the big man talent really fell off), a team whose last healthy season had them reach the WCF, and a team that overall looks very well built. Before 2021 they had a very natural arc of barely missing the playoffs, making it to the 2nd round in 2019, and reaching WCF in 2020 - both involving multiple high pressure game 7s. The injuries in 2021 and 2022 derailed this team from reaching the next step and therefore no one should be surprised to see a healthy version win it all as the core group is entering their apex

Part of it might just be because since 2012 every championship team outside of 2021 included LeBron, Steph, or Kawhi so many are still clinging to the past but realistically these next few years will probably be dominated by the top 4 in this years MVP voting. Honestly if it wasn’t for injuries we likely already see a few titles out of that group by now instead of Giannis in 2021

At Wednesday, May 10, 2023 7:21:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


As Kevin noted, the Nuggets have been on a natural arc of progression interrupted only by injuries, so I would say that they have been consistently successful.

Eight years is not the right time frame to use for Jokic and the Nuggets. Jokic entered the NBA as a 20 year old and, like most 20 year old NBA players, he was not immediately the best player on his team, let alone a dominant superstar--but in the past several years he has been consistently dominant, and the Nuggets' rise corresponds with Jokic's development.

At Thursday, May 11, 2023 11:55:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Injuries happen to every team, so don't quite buy that, especially when it's multiple years. 53 regular season wins isn't elite, especially in a weaker West, but Denver looks like the best team in the West currently. They've picked the right year for that, as this looks about the worst I've ever seen the West overall. 53 wins in the West would often barely get you in the playoffs for several years during Kobe's prime. And if your conference is more competitive, the 53 win total would likely be lower in those years. It's still only 5 playoff series wins over the last 5 years, even if you don't want to count Jokic's first 3 years. Denver's run to the WCF in 2020 was very nearly derailed in the 1st round by a Utah team that's won only 3 playoff series over the past 13 seasons.

At Thursday, May 11, 2023 12:19:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I would say that Denver suffered more injuries to key players than is typical, but I am not going to debate that point.

Miami won 53 games and had the best record in the East last season, so the top conference seed having 53 wins is not as unusual as you are suggesting. A 53 win team would almost always rank in the top three.

During Kobe's final championship season (2009-10), 53 wins would have ranked fourth in the West, but only four games behind the top seeded Lakers.

So, I am not sure what point you are trying to make about Denver's win total, but 53 wins is more than respectable, and this season it was enough to earn the West's top seed. Perhaps the West is more competitive now from top to bottom (other than a couple tanking teams) and that makes it harder for one team to win more than 60 games?

At Thursday, May 11, 2023 8:07:00 PM, Anonymous Kevin said...

I don’t think the West now is as strong as it was during Kobe’s time when it arguably was at its strongest but I do think the conferences are very close now (2019-present east is as good as it’s ever been this century) so I do think the Nuggets having “just” 53 wins is a little deceiving because of that but also because the play in has given 9th-12th seeds that are close to a top 10 seed an incentive to win

Comparing records between teams that played in drastically different leagues (ie 10 team league vs 24 vs 30) can be very misleading but so is comparing post play-in era records to pre play-in era records. I’m not too keen on the play in format but I suppose one positive is that 9th/10th seed squads that are a few games behind the 8th seed still play to win up until the last game. That definitely would skewer the records of some teams and make a league look more “balanced”


Post a Comment

<< Home