Nuggets vs. Suns Odds
|Moneyline||+195 / -245|
|Time||Wednesday, 9:30 p.m. ET|
|Odds as of Tuesday and via PointsBet|
The Suns were led by a balanced scoring attack with four starters scoring at least 20 points while Deandre Ayton anchored their defense. Ayton stepped up to hold NBA Most Valuable Player Award-winner Nikola Jokic to 22 points on 23 shots.
This was just the third time in 79 games that Jokic had more shots than points, but can Ayton and Phoenix do that again?
How To Get Jokic Going
Michael Porter Jr. (back) is questionable after sitting more often than usual in the second half of Game 1, while Will Barton (strained right hamstring) has been upgraded from out to doubtful. PJ Dozier (right adductor strain) remains out, along with Jamal Murray (torn ACL).
The Nuggets struggled to score in Game 1 as Ayton guarded Jokic while other Suns defenders stayed close to their men. The Suns did their best to close the passing lanes and make Jokic a pure scorer while limiting his playmaking for others. Jokic had an off shooting night as Ayton did as well of a job as anyone in the NBA has of contesting Jokic’s shots consistently without fouling (just one foul in 36 minutes).
This was just the fifth time all season that Jokic failed to shoot a single free throw, and he did this while recording just three assists after averaging 8.3 assists during the regular season. While Jokic didn’t have a horrible game, the Nuggets need him to do more in Game 2 as they remain shorthanded without two of their four leading scorers (Murray and Barton) while a third (Porter) is banged up.
Porter scored 15 points on 6-of-13 shooting (3-of-8 on 3-pointers) while not moving well in the second half as he played just 31 minutes, which was the same number as Austin Rivers. Porter will need to play more and have a bigger scoring role in this series, despite the back injury. He must be the Nuggets’ reliable second scoring option, as he is by far the best perimeter scoring option with Murray out.
Monte Morris is the next best perimeter scorer, but he struggled mightily in Game 1 as he scored just two points on 1-of-10 shooting from the field, including missing all four of his 3-point attempts. Morris did dish out six assists without committing a turnover, but he must be more efficient from the field in Game 2 as the main playmaker when Jokic rests.
Starting guards Facundo Campazzo and Austin Rivers also need to make open shots while holding their own defensively against the Suns’ backcourt.
Phoenix Gave Denver Fits in Game 1
If the Suns continue having success in this series, it will be because their offense stays a step ahead of the Nuggets.
As a lifelong Suns fan, look at how much Monty Williams crammed into this opening play.
– fake UCLA
– High PnR
Generating corners 3s wasn't all just a product of DEN's hedges. Defending PHX seems mentally exhausting, especially as the game progresses. pic.twitter.com/wMh2Q46oxk
— Playoff Caitlin (@C2_Cooper) June 8, 2021
The Suns run some of the best spread offensive sets in the NBA, and their spacing and shooting led them to the Game 1 win. The Nuggets’ defense is at its best with Jokic defending pick and rolls by meeting the ball-handler at the level of the screen and preventing him from getting downhill. However, Denver’s defense crumbled after the likes of Chris Paul and Devin Booker beat the hard hedges with quick passes (either to the player setting the screen or out to the perimeter) that led to open shots.
This defensive strategy is still a better idea than switching or playing a drop for the Nuggets, but the Suns are better positioned to beat it with their quick passing and secondary scorers than the Trail Blazers were in the last round. Denver’s defenders tagged rollers after the hedge, and this left open corner 3-point attempts that the Suns took advantage of.
This defensive scheme also led to Jokic logging more distance on defense than he did in any non-double-overtime game in the first round against the Blazers. This is even more advantageous for the Suns since it increases Jokic’s work defensively, but also because their game plan to defend the Serbian star has been to make him work harder on offense and become a score-first player. If Jokic is winded down the stretch, the Nuggets will struggle.
A strength of Nuggets head coach Michael Malone is his traditionally on-point adjustments as series unfold, so Monty Williams (the runner-up in the NBA Coach of the Year Award voting) must stay a step ahead with wrinkles in his offense to beat the Suns’ defense. After Williams and the Suns thrived against the Lakers last round, I like their chances of doing so against the Nuggets.
Campazzo can’t guard Paul and although Aaron Gordon has shown he is a quality individual defender, Booker has the upper hand on him and is playing his best basketball over the last three games. Porter’s off-ball defense is a key weak link for the Nuggets, and the Suns’ offense will continue attacking his weak-side defensive decision-making with their sets, especially if his back injury limits his movement.
While Jokic is the best player in this series, the Suns are the better team and have much more margin for error because of their backcourt duo of Booker and Paul. Ayton will continue to make Jokic work on offense while the Suns’ offense uses its great spacing to generate quality looks at the rim and beyond the arc as they should consistently beat the Nuggets’ hedges. I like the value on the Suns here for another convincing win.
Jokic and Porter must both be great for the Nuggets to cover, but Ayton’s defense and Porter’s combination of poor off-ball defense and back injury (the same part of his body that plummeted his draft stock) give me even more reason to like the Suns.
Pick: Suns -6 (play to -7)