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Chris Paul takes over in fourth quarter to lead Phoenix Suns past Denver Nuggets

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Chris Paul hit a perfect 6/6 from the floor in the fourth quarter as the Suns beat the Denver Nuggets 122 – 105 to take Game 1 in front of a raucous Phoenix crowd.

Paul and his rejuvenated right shoulder scored 21 points (14 points in the fourth) and dished 11 assists as the Phoenix Suns beat the Denver Nuggets in the first game of their Western Conference semi-finals series.

Mikal Bridges also added 23 in a breakout playoff game for the third-year wing.

All eyes were on Paul in the opening minutes, especially after his ailing right shoulder was inadvertently bumped by Denver point guard Facundo Campazzo.

The 11-time All-Star looked uncomfortable for a moment but recovered quickly. He went scoreless in the opening period but made a 3-pointer in the second quarter and then a turnaround jumper.

The Suns trailed for most of the first half and by 10 points early in the third quarter but rallied to take the lead by late in the third.

Devin Booker made a 27-foot, step back 3-pointer and Bridges added a driving layup for a 79-72 advantage. They pushed the lead to 88-79 going into the fourth.

However, Paul really started to look like his old self in the fourth quarter, when he knocked down back-to-back mid-range jumpers to put the Suns up 94-79 with 10:25 left.

Partly because of the shoulder injury, Paul averaged just 9.2 points per game against the Lakers in the first round. The flurry came much to the delight of the sell-out crowd of 16,319, who anxiously watched the point guard’s every move.

Paul’s buckets were the final exclamation points on a 34-9 run that helped Phoenix take control and cruise to the finish line. Veteran power forward Paul Millsap scored in the interior with 10 minutes left to halt the Phoenix onslaught.

However, the Suns still managed to keep the heat on as Paul converted a three-point play and a three-pointer and Cameron Payne fed an alley-oop to Torrey Craig for a ferocious dunk that increased the Phoenix lead to 102-84 with 8:36 left.

Crowder later knocked down a 3-pointer to make it 114-97 with 3:34 left, and Booker added a jumper 26 seconds later to end any suspense. The Suns’ lead topped out at 20 points.

The young big man Deandre Ayton had another impressive game, finishing with 20 points and 10 rebounds while limiting Nikola Jokic’s effectiveness on the defensive end. Meanwhile Devin Booker added 21 points, four rebounds and eight assists.

Phoenix Suns

Points Rebounds Assists
Jae Crowder 14 5 1
Mikal Bridges 23 5 5
Deandre Ayton 20 10 0
Devin Booker 21 4 8
Chris Paul 21 11 6

Nikola Jokic led the Nuggets with 22 points but went cold while the Suns made their second half run. Aaron Gordon added 18 points while Michael Porter Jr. had 15.

Denver Nuggets

Points Rebounds Assists
Aaron Gordon 18 4 2
Michael Porter Jr. 15 7 2
Nikola Jokic 22 9 3
Austin Rivers 7 3 4
Facundo Campazzo 14 4 6

The big man matchup between Jokic and Ayton initially delivered in the first quarter as the two teams fought to a 28-all tie. Ayton threw down a thunderous dunk over Michael Porter Jr. while Jokic used his strength and positioning to make five of six shots.

Denver led 58-57 at halftime. Jokic had 15 points and six rebounds before the break while Booker and Ayton countered with 11 points each for the Suns.

It was surprising that the game didn’t come down to the final minutes. The three regular-season meetings were all extremely close: One was decided by three points in regulation, another was settled in overtime and the other went to double overtime.

Game 2 of the series is on Wednesday night, again in Phoenix.

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