Nuggets crush Suns to reach West finals

Nikola Jokic (15) of the Denver Nuggets high fives Aaron Gordon (50) during the second quarter in Game Six of the Western Conference Semifinal Playoffs against the Phoenix Suns at Footprint Center on Thursday, May 11, in Phoenix, Arizona (Friday, May 12, in Manila). PHOTO BY CHRISTIAN PETERSEN / AFP

Los Angeles: The Denver Nuggets crushed the Phoenix Suns 125-100 on Thursday (Friday in Manila) to become the first team to reach the NBA conference finals as the Boston Celtics forced a decisive game seven against the Philadelphia 76ers.

Western Conference top seeds Denver dominated from start to finish in Phoenix as they polished off the Suns 4-2 in their best-of-seven conference semi-final.

The Nuggets reached the conference finals for the first time since the Covid “bubble” in Florida in 2020. They'll face either reigning champions Golden State or the Los Angeles Lakers — who hold a 3-2 lead in their series and host the Warriors on Friday.

Two-time NBA Most Valuable Player Nikola Jokic delivered his third triple-double of the series, scoring 32 points with 10 rebounds and 12 assists for the 11th post-season triple-double of his career.

Jokic said the Nuggets shrugged off the idea of a “hostile environment” at the Footprint Center and played with “the same mindset that we are playing with at home — just be aggressive, move them from the spots, make them make tough shots.

“And I think we did that,” Jokic told broadcaster ESPN.

The Nuggets silenced the Phoenix crowd as they dominated virtually every facet of the game on the way to an 81-51 halftime lead — which sparked a smattering of boos from spectators for the home team.

Jamal Murray, who was questionable to start because of illness, scored 26 points and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope added 21 for Denver, who out-scored the Suns 62-46 in the paint, out-rebounded them 41-29 and had 18 second-chance points to the Suns' seven.

Cameron Payne drilled seven of nine three-pointers on the way to 31 points for Phoenix. Kevin Durant added 23 and Devin Booker 12.

But with veteran point guard Chris Paul missing a fourth straight game with a groin injury and center Deandre Ayton ruled out with a rib injury, the Suns endured another embarrassing exit after last year's elimination on their home floor by Luka Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks.

Durant wasn't around for that one, having arrived in February via a blockbuster trade with Brooklyn. On Thursday Durant made just one of his first 10 shots as the Suns fell behind.

When his shots started falling in the second half it was too late.

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