Well, that was an absolute party.

The Denver Nuggets closed out the Phoenix Suns in their own building, defeating them 125-100 in Game 6 to end the series at 4-2. The Nuggets will advance to the Western Conference Finals and face the winner of the Los Angeles Lakers vs Golden State Warriors series in Denver’s first bid to play in an NBA Finals in franchise history.

The Nuggets blitzed the Suns in the first quarter, jumping out to a 44-26 lead. Rather than let off the gas pedal, the Nuggets pushed the lead even higher, all the way up to 30 points at halftime. The Nuggets led 81-51, and Suns fans rang down a chorus of boos as their team was clearly inferior after a strong series to that point. The Suns pushed back occasionally throughout the second half, but the Nuggets never relinquished the massive margin until the Suns waved the white flag midway through the fourth quarter. It was an epic performance from Denver as a whole.

Nikola Jokić was incredible, notching 32 points, 12 assists, and 10 rebounds in his 11th playoff triple-double of his career. The Suns were without both Chris Paul and Deandre Ayton in this one, and missing Ayton definitely helped make things even easier for Jokić.

Jamal Murray, who popped up sick on the injury report earlier in the day, gutted out a strong performance with 26 points in 35 minutes. He was efficient and effective on both ends of the floor despite clearly laboring through the sickness. Still, he stepped up when the team needed him in an important moment.

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope racked up 21 points in the first half alone, setting the tone for Nuggets and the Suns from the jump. He stepped up with Murray slow to start, and it was clear that his playoff and championship level pedigree helped him know exactly when to be more aggressive on a night like tonight.

Here are my takeaways from the Nuggets evisceration of the Phoenix Suns on their home floor to close out the series:

Closeout Jokić is the best Jokić

There’s nothing better than watching the best player in the world smell blood in the water. Nikola Jokić plays with a killer instinct that many don’t understand about him. He wants to win so badly, and with the Suns in a position of vulnerability, he wasn’t about to let this chance slip.

Jokić delivered a masterclass in the first quarter as a scorer, rebounder, and passer, helping the Nuggets out to an 18-point lead in the first 12 minutes. His poise and control in every aspect of this game was absolutely marvelous. The attention to detail on defense, pushing the pace, keeping everybody involved, it was all fantastic. Jokić coaxed the Nuggets to a 30-point lead at halftime, pushing all of the right buttons while dominating his individual matchups against Jock Landale and Bismack Biyombo due to the absence of Deandre Ayton.

Denver needs Jokić to be the best player on the floor night in and night out. Jamal Murray can offer crooked numbers as a scorer, and Denver’s role players have stepped up all season when called upon. In the end, it has to be Jokić carrying the day. He’s up to the task, though, and it’s amazing to see him do it as consistently with as much apparent ease as he does every time.

Jokić scored 32 points, dished out 12 assists, grabbed 10 rebounds, and even notched three steals and a block. He shot 13-of-18 from the field and was +28 in his 38 minutes. It’s incredible.

Jamal Murray played a nice flu game

Earlier in the day, Murray popped up as questionable on the injury report with a Non-Covid illness. It was a surprising and unfortunate time to happen, but Murray gutted it out and ended up playing 35 minutes anyway. It was a great time for Murray to rise to the occasion, even if he looked like he was laboring out there for most of the game.

Murray spent a lot of the first quarter off-ball, though he hit a three on a nice flare screen action to the corner. In the second quarter though, he started to percolate, making some impressive moves, creating shots for himself and his teammates. He even got Devin Booker a couple of times in isolation situations, including an impressive collection of moves to create an open stepback jumper.

Murray’s a great player to have when you’re in a blowout situation because he’s a hunter. He wants to go for the jugular at times, and he did just that on multiple occasions. A three-pointer in front of the Suns bench in the second half basically put the game away, and Murray turned around to let the Suns know about it too.

Overall, Murray finished with 26 points, four rebounds, four assists, and four steals, shooting 7-of-16 from the field, 4-of-7 from three, and 8-of-8 from the line. It was his best performance of the series outside of Game 1, and having it happen when he’s dealing with sickness is extremely Jamal Murray.

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Bruce Brown stepped up big time

The Nuggets two most important offseason additions were integral throughout this series, defending their butts off against Devin Booker and Kevin Durant to try to limit them in any small ways they could. The mark of a great defender isn’t just about getting stops though. It’s about wearing down great offensive players even if those players are playing well. For the first time this series, both Booker and Durant looked exhausted by the crowds they were seeing (Gordon of course gets credit here too), and it was Caldwell-Pope and Brown shouldering those assignments for much of Game 6. The duo combined for five steals + blocks and turned those opportunities into points on the other end.

Of course, both Caldwell-Pope and Brown also stepped up offensively. KCP scored a ludicrous 21 points in the first half on 7-of-9 shooting. He spaced the floor well for Jokić and Murray, even taking advantage of some two-man actions with Jokić as a DHO and backcut threat. He stepped up at the perfect time with Murray dealing with sickness and Michael Porter Jr. struggling a bit. Brown was more of a second half threat, but his downhill scoring continues to be big. He scored 13 points on 6-of-13 from the field, hitting a three in the process and giving the Suns another threat on the court that they had to respect.

The Nuggets would have lost this series without Caldwell-Pope and Brown, I truly believe that. Those guys provided Denver the layers of athletic, wing defense with some scoring chops that they simply haven’t had in the past. Fantastic additions to the roster by Calvin Booth and company.

It finally happened. The Nuggets are in the Western Conference Finals again. They’re actually the first of the four Conference Finals teams to punch their ticket. The Nuggets will wait for the results of the series between the Los Angeles Lakers and Golden State Warriors, with the lakers currently holding a 3-2 series lead heading into Game 6 tomorrow.

The Nuggets aren’t done yet though. Regardless of who they face in this next round, this is where their franchise ceiling has held them for over 50 years. They’ve never, ever made in the NBA Finals before, and even if they’re favored in the next round, it’s not going to be easy. The playoffs are difficult, and it takes constant effort, belief, and a high level of execution to rise above the mounting pressure.

I believe this Nuggets team can get it done. I believe this is the group to do it. They must go out and deliver though, accepting the pressure and everything that comes with it in order to deliver on the biggest stage.

Nikola Jokić is ready. Jamal Murray is ready. The Denver Nuggets are ready. Let’s get it done this time.

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