The Phoenix Suns got balanced scoring in Game 1 and played a nearly flawless second half to jump out to a 1-0 lead on the Denver Nuggets. Bettors and oddsmakers took notice and certainly thought highly of the Game 1 effort, as this line has been bumped up to Phoenix -6 with a total of 222 at Bookmaker Sportsbook.
Game 1 closed -6 after opening more like 4 or 4.5 at most places. Oddsmakers saw no reason to dispute what the market-moving money had to say about the first game, so the second game is lined exactly in that price range.
Let’s look at Game 2 and see if things will go any different for Denver.
One thing that should go differently for the Nuggets is that Nikola Jokic should have a better game. The presumptive NBA MVP had 22 points, but was only 10-of-23 from the floor and only managed three assists. The Suns did a good job defending against him and he failed to get to the free throw line, so they did so cleanly as well.
The Nuggets actually only had six free throw attempts in the game to 20 for the Suns. Denver will need to be more aggressive and more assertive in the second game of this season. Aaron Gordon had a nice game from the floor with 18 points, but Michael Porter Jr. was just 6-of-13 and 3-of-8 from three. He was a big part of the reason why the Nuggets were able to outlast Damian Lillard and the Trail Blazers in the first round.
Porter didn’t get enough touches. It was almost as if the Suns figured that Jokic would get his and wanted to keep the supporting cast at bay. They seemed to lose Facundo Campazzo, who had 14 points, but if Campazzo is going to be forced to have that big of an impact, it means that something is not going well for the Nuggets.
Ultimately, Game 1 came down to two things. The first is that Denver didn’t defend well or communicate well enough on defense. The Nuggets allowed too many players to have too many clean looks. The second is that the Nuggets failed to get to the free throw line. The difference at the free throw line was 12 points. The difference in the final score was 17 points. Things could have gone a lot differently.
The Suns have to be excited by the manner in which they won Game 1. Along with a .618 eFG% and a solid 13-of-34 night from beyond the arc, they won even though Devin Booker had the ball forced out of his hands. Phoenix played really unselfish basketball with 30 assists on 46 made field goals. Four players had 20 points, including the big 23-point night from Mikal Bridges, who was hit or miss in the first round.
Booker was 8-of-12 from the field for 21 points, so he was efficient with his scoring, but he deserves a lot of credit because he didn’t force the issue with his shot selection. Booker has a tendency to feel like he’s the only guy on the floor, which can lead to a lot of tough midrange jumpers. In Game 1, he was unselfish and it may have been his best all-around game of the postseason as a result.
It was also nice to see 11 assists from Chris Paul. Paul has dealt with some pretty uncomfortable aches and pains in the playoffs and has been on and off the floor. He had the 11 dimes, but also managed over 20 and was that calming, veteran presence that the Suns needed in their first game with heightened stakes.
What Phoenix did really effectively was what Denver tried to do. Nikola Jokic was forced into some bad, tough shots. That was the hope with Booker and the Nuggets defense, but Booker played a smart, sound game. We’ll see if Jokic is willing to spread the ball around more and make the Suns D work harder in tonight’s contest.
Nuggets vs. Suns Free Pick
The Suns have really found their stride in these playoffs. Maybe the Lakers weren’t fully invested and we know they weren’t fully healthy, but Phoenix played a strong game and everybody had a hand in what happened. A similar result in Game 2 will lead to a cover and the Suns have no reason to change what worked for them, whereas Denver may have to try something new that may or may not work.
Pick: Phoenix Suns