NBA playoffs roundup: Nuggets eliminate Suns behind Nikola Jokic’s triple-double

Photo Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

NBA playoffs roundup: Nuggets eliminate Suns behind Nikola Jokic’s triple-double

Nuggets, 125, Suns 100

Nikola Jokic recorded 32 points, 12 assists, and 10 rebounds to help the Denver Nuggets steamroll the host Phoenix Suns 125-100 on Thursday night and win their Western Conference semifinal series in six games.

Jamal Murray scored 26 points, and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope produced all 21 of his points in a dominant first half as the top-seeded Nuggets reached the conference finals for the second time in the past four seasons. It is Denver’s fifth overall trip to the Western finals.

Cameron Payne established personal playoff highs of 31 points and seven 3-pointers for the fourth-seeded Suns. Kevin Durant scored 23 points, but Devin Booker had just 12 to go with eight assists.

The Nuggets will open the Western Conference finals at home on Tuesday against either the Golden State Warriors or Los Angeles Lakers.

Phoenix trailed 81-51 at the break, with the 30-point margin tying last season’s Suns for the third-worst playoff halftime deficit in NBA history to a team facing elimination. Phoenix trailed the Dallas Mavericks by 30 in Game 7 of the Western Conference semifinals before succumbing 123-90.

The bigger halftime deficits in elimination games belong to the San Francisco Warriors (34 vs. the Milwaukee Bucks in Game 5 of the 1971 Western Conference semifinals) and the Bucks (32 vs. the Chicago Bulls in Game 6 of the 2015 Eastern Conference first round).

Chris Paul (groin) missed his fourth straight game, and Suns teammate Deandre Ayton (rib) also sat out. Phoenix shot 48.1% from the field and 11-of-28 (39.3%) from behind the arc. The Suns also received 13 points from Jock Landale.

Bruce Brown scored 13 points, and Michael Porter Jr. added 10 for the Nuggets, who shot 53.7% from the field, including 8-of-22 (36.4%) from 3-point range. Jokic connected on 13-of-18 shots while posting his third triple-double of the series.

Denver began pulling away by scoring 17 straight points to end the first quarter with a 44-26 lead. Murray scored the first two points of the second to cap a 19-0 surge.

The Suns were down by 15 after Booker’s basket with 5:11 left in the first half before the Nuggets exploded on a 19-2 burst. Murray’s short jumper capped the run to make it 79-47 with 1:05 remaining.

In addition to Caldwell-Pope’s big half, Jokic had 20 points, and Murray scored 18 in the half. For Phoenix, Payne had 19 points before the break.

The Suns trimmed the deficit to 91-68 on Payne’s 3-pointer with 4:36 left in the third quarter. However, Murray sank two 3-pointers during a 10-3 run to get the Nuggets’ lead back up to 30.

Denver led 103-76 entering the final stanza. Jokic exited with the Nuggets up by 25 with 2:11 remaining.

Celtics 95, 76ers 86

Jayson Tatum hit four 3-pointers in the final 4:14 of the fourth quarter, and the Boston Celtics defeated the host Philadelphia 76ers 95-86 on Thursday to tie their Eastern Conference semifinal series at three wins apiece.

Game 7 will be played on Sunday in Boston.

Tatum started 1-for-14 but rallied to finish with 19 points, nine rebounds, and six assists on 5-of-21 shooting.

“I’m one of — humbly, one of the best basketball players in the world,” Tatum said in a postgame interview on ESPN. “You go through struggles. You go through slumps. My teammates trusted me.”

Marcus Smart led the Celtics with 22 points, and Jaylen Brown added 17. Malcolm Brogdon contributed 16, Robert Williams chipped in with 10 points and nine rebounds, and Al Horford grabbed 11 rebounds.

Joel Embiid put up 26 points, 10 rebounds, and three blocked shots, and Tyrese Maxey added 26 points for the Sixers, who haven’t advanced to the Eastern Conference finals since 2001.

James Harden had 13 points and nine assists.

The Sixers shot just 8-of-34 (23.5%) from 3-point range, with Harden going 0-for-6.

“I would say we had a lot of wide-open threes,” Sixers coach Doc Rivers said. “We just didn’t make them.”

Philadelphia is looking for its first playoff series victory over the Celtics since 1982, having lost to Boston five times in the postseason since then.

Tatum hit back-to-back contested 3-pointers, and the Celtics led 87-83 with 3:35 remaining in the fourth quarter.

Maxey shot an airball on a trey attempt but then came back to hit 1-of-2 free throws to cut the deficit to 87-84.

The 76ers led by five points late in the third quarter and by two in the middle of the fourth.

In the second quarter, the Celtics controlled the tempo, led by as many as 16, and took a 50-43 lead into halftime even with Tatum shooting 0-for-10 from the field.

Smart paced the Celtics with 15 first-half points. Maxey kept the Sixers close with 15 points before the break.

When Georges Niang dropped in a trey from the corner with 5:30 left in the third, the Sixers closed within 62-60.

After an empty possession by the Celtics, Embiid drew a foul and hit two free throws. Harden then made two free throws and the Sixers went ahead 64-62.

Derrick White responded with a 3-pointer, his third of the game, and the Celtics regained a one-point advantage.

The Sixers led 73-71 at the end of the third.

–Field Level Media

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