Jokic has been ejected from Game 4. He was assessed a flagrant 2 foul for hitting Cam Payne in the face.
The Phoenix Suns are finally headed back to the Western Conference finals for the first time since 2010. It wasn't easy, but the second-seeded Suns closed out the No. 3 Denver Nuggets in Game 4, 125-118, on Sunday night to complete the series sweep. The Suns will now face off against the winner of the series between the top-ranked Utah Jazz and No. 4 Los Angeles Clippers. The Jazz currently lead that series 2-1.
Just as they have all series, Devin Booker and Chris Paul led the way for Phoenix in Game 3. Booker had 34 points and 11 rebounds, while Paul added a game-high 37 points and 7 assists. In the process, Paul moved up to 13th on the NBA's all-time postseason assists list. The Suns have now won seven straight games, and appear to be playing their best basketball of the season at the right time.
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Will Barton paced the Nuggets with 25 points, and freshly minted MVP Nikola Jokic added 22 points and 11 rebounds for Denver. Jokic's night ended early though, as he was ejected late in the third quarter following a flagrant 2 foul on Suns guard Cam Payne. The Nuggets never gave up, but without their leader, they were unable to prevent the Suns from ending their season. After making it to the Western Conference finals last season, the Nuggets took a step back this year. If Jamal Murray was healthy for the series, perhaps it would have gone differently, but without him Denver just didn't have the firepower to keep up with Phoenix. Now, the Nuggets will enter the offseason, while the Suns will compete to make their first Finals appearance since 1993.
Here's a look at three major takeaways from Phoenix's Game 4 win over Denver.
1. An epic Chris Paul performance
Chris Paul was absolutely electric on Sunday night. With the game, and the series, still hanging in the balance, Paul turned back the clock and submitted one of his best-ever postseason performances. In all, Paul tallied 37 points (on 14 of 19 shooting from the floor), seven assists, three rebounds and two steals. The point production was the most that he's scored in any game since 2018. In the process, he became the oldest player with 35-plus points on 70 percent shooting in a playoff game since 1965.
Paul was especially lethal in the second half. He scored 25 of his 37 points over the final 24 minutes, and he missed just two shots in the entire half as he ran the pick-and-roll to perfection and proceeded to knock down elbow jumper after elbow jumper.
At 36 years old, Paul's longevity is extremely impressive. Everyone loves to talk about LeBron James' longevity, and rightfully so, but Paul should be mentioned in the same breath. Over a decade and a half into his career, Paul still appears to be near the peak of his powers, and he's an enormous part of the reason why the Suns are now just foiur wins away from their first NBA Finals appearance in nearly three decades.
2. A frustrating end to a stellar season for Jokic
Nikola Jokic had an epic season for the Denver Nuggets. He averaged career highs across the board -- 26.4 points, 10.8 rebounds, and 8.3 assists in 34.6 minutes per performance -- while playing in all 72 regular-season games and leading the Nuggets to the third seed in the ultra-competitive Western Conference. He was awarded with the NBA's MVP award as a result of his efforts, and as such it's a season that will always be remembered in the history books. Still, Jokic's stellar season came to an extremely disappointing, and frustrating, end on Sunday night. Not only were his Nuggets swept in the series by the Suns, but Jokic wasn't even out on the floor with his teammates for the final 15 minutes of Game 4 to try to extend the series as he was ejected for committing this hard foul on Suns guard Cam Payne:
With that play, Jokic became just the second current MVP to be ejected from a playoff game in the last 25 years. The other was Stephen Curry in 2016. Jokic also became just the fifth MVP to be swept in a playoff series, and the first since Magic Johnson in 1989.
Nikola Jokic is the 5th MVP to be swept in a playoff series, and 1st since Magic Johnson in the 1989 Finals vs the Pistons.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) June 14, 2021
Jokic is also the 2nd MVP to be ejected in the last 25 postseasons (Steph Curry in 2016). h/t @EliasSports pic.twitter.com/rQVOHhvCI4
Obviously, it was far from an ideal ending to what was an otherwise extremely memorable campaign for Jokic, but that shouldn't take away from how solid he was all season. If it wasn't for Jokic's strong play, especially after Jamal Murray went down with a torn ACL in April, the Nuggets likely would not have made it as far as they did.
"That didn't go how we wanted," Jokic said after Game 4. "They beat us. They whooped our ass. But, I think the whole team needs to walk out with our head up. It is what it is. Sometimes you need to accept a loss. Sometimes someone can beat you, accept it and try to be better. ... You cannot change it. The whole season was great until the last four games."
3. Suns rolling at the right time
The Suns have been great all season, but right now they seem to be playing their best basketball at the right time. The Suns won three straight games in the first round to take down the Lakers, and then they just won four straight games to sweep the Nuggets. That's seven straight postseason wins for Phoenix, which is impressive. Even more impressive is that it won those seven games by an average of 16.3 points. In other words, these Suns haven't just been winning, they've been dominating. In the process, they became the first team ever to reach the conference finals after entering the season on a 10-year playoff drought.
The Suns are currently the hottest team in the NBA, and a team that no opponent will be eager to match up against. Phoenix will now look to continue its hot steak in the conference finals against either the Jazz or the Clippers. For what it's worth, the Suns won just one out of three games against the Clippers during the regular season, but won all three of their meetings with the Jazz.