The Denver Nuggets are one victory away from reaching the Western Conference finals for the second time in the past four seasons.
The Phoenix Suns aim to lasso Denver’s victory celebration as well as stave off elimination when they host the Nuggets on Thursday night in Game 6 of the best-of-seven semifinals.
The home team has won every game in the series. Denver’s three such wins came by an average of 14.7 points, including a 118-102 victory in Game 5 on Tuesday, while the Suns notched home triumphs by seven and five points.
Denver will attempt to break that pattern to avoid a Game 7.
“The energy’s a little different when we’re at home,” Nuggets guard Jamal Murray said. “The pace is a little faster for us. We’ve gotta carry that over to Phoenix.”
Denver star Nikola Jokic has been unstoppable in the series with averages of 35 points, 13.8 rebounds and 10 assists. He has two triple-doubles in the series and set a career high of 53 points in the Game 4 loss at Phoenix.
In Game 5, Jokic had 29 points, 13 rebounds and 12 assists to get the Nuggets back on track after two straight setbacks. It was his 10th career postseason triple-double, passing legendary Wilt Chamberlain for most all-time among centers.
The two-time MVP said he has no preference when it comes to going on a scoring binge or playing an all-around game that ends with a triple-double.
“I mean, to be honest, I just like to win the game,” Jokic said. “So whatever it takes. I open the game (Tuesday), I think really badly, maybe I was forcing it.
“And then I just slow it down, relax and let the game come to me. It’ll come to me and that happens.”
Nuggets coach Michael Malone says basketball fans are seeing a legend during the prime of his career.
“I think sometimes we maybe take Nikola for granted because what he is doing is just incredible,” Malone said. “He makes everyone around him better. Never gets rattled. ‘Cool Hand Luke.’ And we’re just so thankful that he’s a Denver Nugget.”
Jokic got support from a surprise source in Game 5, as Bruce Brown contributed 25 points.
The Suns continue to revolve around the play of Devin Booker and Kevin Durant.
Booker is averaging 34.6 points and 7.8 assists, with his best performance coming in Game 3 when he matched his career playoff high of 47 points while shooting 20-for-25. He scored 28 points in the Game 5 loss in Denver.
Durant is putting up 30.8 points, 10.6 rebounds and five assists per game. He had 26 points and 11 boards in Game 5.
Durant said the numbers can be ignored.
“It’s just about going out there and playing every possession like it’s your last,” Durant said. “We’ve seen this team for five games now. They’ve seen us. It’s all about who wants it more.”
Booker injured his left foot during the Tuesday game and was seen limping, but Suns coach Monty Williams downplayed the seriousness afterward.
“I think he’s OK,” Williams said. “He had a sore foot. But we wouldn’t put him back out there if we didn’t think he was OK.”
Booker’s foot woes come as point guard Chris Paul (groin) will miss his fourth straight game. Suns center Deandre Ayton is also in danger of missing Thursday’s game due to a rib contusion. He is listed as questionable.
Booker is more concerned with thriving in the do-or-die environment of Game 6.
“I love it,” Booker said. “Every game has its own character. Every game is its own movie, its own different preparation and everything to go with it. We’re going over film, see how we can be better for Game 6.”
–Field Level Media