Both the Phoenix Suns and the Denver Nuggets needed six games in the first round to eliminate experienced opponents in the Los Angeles Lakers and Portland Trail Blazers respectively.
Now, both young teams face-off in the Conference Semifinals, the third straight for the Nuggets but the first since 2010 for the Suns.
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Game 1 - Monday, June 7, 10:00 p.m ET
Game 2 - Wednesday, June 9, 9:30 p.m. ET
Game 3 - Friday, June 11, 10:00 p.m. ET
Game 4 - Sunday, June 13, 8:00 p.m. ET
Game 5 (if necessary) - TBD
Game 6 (if necessary) - TBD
Game 7 (if necessary) - TBD
Result: Nuggets won 2-1
Best game: Jan. 23, 2021 - Nuggets 120, Suns 112 [2OT]
Best performance: Nikola Jokic (Jan. 23, 2021) - 29 points, 22 rebounds, six assists and one steal.
The Suns and Nuggets fought one of the most tightly-contested season series of the year. Their three games were decided by an average margin of five points with one game going to overtime and another going to double-overtime - both on consecutive days in Phoenix.
It was a slugfest but in the end, Denver, led by Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray came out on top in both games which helped them clinch the season series 2-1. Through the season series, Jokic averaged 26.4 points, 10.8 rebounds and 8.3 assists on 56.6% shooting from the field.
Although Booker missed one of the three games, both teams played nearly at full health through the season series. However, looking ahead to the second round, the Nuggets are set to be without three key rotation players in Jamal Murray, Will Barton and PJ Dozier with Barton's return reportedly possible during the series.
Key Storyline: Can Jokic's MVP effect overcome balanced two-way Suns?
Given how both rosters are constructed, including injuries, the Phoenix Suns have a clear advantage in the backcourt but Denver has an MVP-caliber mismatch in the frontcourt in Nikola Jokic.
With the help of role players stepping up on the deep Nuggets, it was the Serbian stellar's play that helped them beat the Trail Blazers in six games despite missing three key rotation players in Jamal Murray, Will Barton and PJ Dozier.
Nikola Jokic in the first round:- StatMuse (@statmuse) June 4, 2021
Despite his current level of play, third-year big man Deandre Ayton won't be enough to stop him or even restrict him on his own.
"He's making threes, scoring on the block, scoring at the free-throw line, getting to the free-throw line, he's making other guys better," Damian Lillard said after the Nuggets eliminated the Trail Blazers in Game 6.
"He's everything for them and I think if it was any year where a guy like him and what he does for that team could lead a team to a championship it would be this year because of how open it is."
Having said that, the Suns, who had the sixth-best defence during the season, will be far more competent than the Trail Blazers, who ranked 29th during the season. So, the question remains, can Jokic's MVP-level play be enough to overcome the Suns' competitive two-way depth?
Three Players to watch
Devin Booker, Phoenix Suns
Considering the mismatch in the backcourt, Booker's production and play will be huge for the Suns. Going by his numbers from the first round, he's most likely to get his and get them comfortably but it's critical that he takes complete advantage of the talent mismatch against the Nuggets' guards.
The 24-year-old has one of several young players to have very impressive postseason debuts and he'll have to continue doing so if the Suns want to extend their postseason further than the Conference Semifinals.
If he has an off-night and with Chris Paul nursing an injured shoulder, it really swings the balances in the Nuggets' favour.
Michael Porter Jr., Denver Nuggets
Other than a way below par Game 4 against the Trail Blazers, where he only recorded three points, Porter Jr. has been the Nuggets' second-leading scorer with the injury to Jamal Murray. Through the six games in the first round, he averaged 18.8 points with shooting splits of 53.8 percent from the field, 41.5 percent from beyond the arc and 90.9 percent from the charity line.
While those numbers make him a lethal threat, he will be going up against a tough the Suns perimeter defence with the likes of Mikal Bridges and Jae Crowder.
Given how easy he makes scoring look, he's more than capable of putting up the first-round numbers once again or even bettering them but he'll just have to work harder. In Murray's absence, his play will be critical to the Nuggets against a Suns team that's far better defensively than the Trail Blazers.
Chris Paul, Phoenix Suns
What's the status on his shoulder?
Despite seemingly reinjuring it in Game 5, he came out with a more than a decent Game 6 in the first round against the Lakers but how he fares each game will impact how the Suns play on both ends of the floor.
It's his leadership and playmaking, while on the court, that really helps the team unlock their offence which will be key against a Nuggets squad that is led by an MVP finalist in Jokic, who will surely make the most of their pieces.
Picks and Predictions
Kane Pitman (@KanePitman): Suns in 6
Yash Matange (@yashmatange2694): Nuggets in 6
Kyle Irving (@KyleIrv_): Suns in 6
Stats to know
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