West semis preview: Phoenix Suns vs. Denver Nuggets

Published June 7, 2021, 7:30 AMRenee Ticzon

Chris Paul and Devin Booker against Nikola Jokic and Michael Porter, Jr. Which team will be able to neutralize the other team's superstars?

The Phoenix Suns and Denver Nuggets are young teams with superstar-caliber leaders running the floor. Both teams advanced to the second round after defeating talented and formidable teams in six games. 

Almost everyone in the NBA community doubted the Suns. They were going up against the title-defending Los Angeles Lakers who had both Anthony Davis and LeBron James. Phoenix was the underdog in this matchup, without a doubt. And yet Chris Paul’s leadership and Devin Booker’s hot shooting eliminated the Lakers’ dream to go back-to-back, giving James the very first first-round exit of his career.

Meanwhile, the Nuggets were a little shaky when they went up against the Portland Trail Blazers. Critics doubted their ability to perform without Jamal Murray, who is still recovering from a torn ACL. However, Nikola Jokic was able to carry the entire Denver franchise into the semifinals, thanks to the insane season he’s been having so far.

This series will be interesting because each team has a lot of pieces that can counter the other. Will Deandre Ayton effectively shut down Jokic? Will Booker outscore Michael Porter Jr.? Can Facundo Campazzo and Austin Rivers limit Chris Paul? This matchup has no clear outcome and is completely unpredictable.

Most compelling storyline

This game is going to have a list of matchups, but the one pairing that fans cannot miss is the Booker-Porter duel.

Booker is a walking bucket. His Game 6 performance against the Lakers proves his ability to carry the Suns team in crucial games. If you don’t recall, Booker scored 22 points and made 6-of-6 from downtown in the first quarter alone. He ended the Lakers’ hopes, showing he is capable of delivering in pressure pack situations. The postseason is supposed to expose players’ weaknesses, but for Booker, it just made him a lot better. 

The only question now is if Booker can sustain that throughout this series where he’ll go on an offensive battle with Porter. MPJ doesn’t have much playoff experience, but if he can get buckets consistently, Denver has a chance. His improvement this year could be the push the Nuggets need to make it to the Western Conference Finals.

On the other hand, Booker might just be the key to Paul’s championship drought. Because Paul has transitioned into a playmaker role, Booker’s hot shooting is needed more than ever. If he constantly finds his rhythm against the Nuggets, there’s no telling how deep the Suns might go this year.

Keep an eye on… 

One guy with the heaviest assignment in this series is Deandre Ayton.

Ayton will be matched up against leading MVP candidate Jokic, who averages 33 points for the Nuggets on 52.8 percent shooting.

On paper, Ayton might not be a superior defender the same way Rudy Gobert and Ben Simmons are. However, that’s the deceiving thing about statistics, it doesn’t count the hustle plays, smart positioning, and good contests with no fouls -- which is exactly how Ayton has been defending. Ayton has unlocked the ability to put pressure on his guy without going too hard and risking fouling out. He’s using his athleticism and his 7-foot wingspan to his advantage.


In their previous series, Austin Rivers had the herculean task of guarding Damian Lillard. In this series, Denver faces a two-headed dragon. Phoenix has Booker and Paul -- two guards who can dominate the game in so many different ways.

It should be interesting who the Nuggets will prioritize in terms of defense. Will they stay with a man-to-man match-up the way they did with Lillard and Rivers? Or will Denver play both Campazzo and Rivers to shut down the Suns’ two powerful guards?

Winning Blueprint

The Point God has yet to win a championship, but the route to get there will be incredibly difficult. If Phoenix wants to make it to the NBA finals, they have to stop Jokic first.

Time and time again, we see how Jokic can single-handedly carry the Nuggets to victory, even in pressure-packed situations. If the Suns can stop not just The Joker’s scoring, but also his playmaking, then they control the series.

For the Nuggets, on the other hand, the key is to keep Booker from getting hot early in the game. Once Booker gets into the flow of things, it’s difficult to stop him. Keeping Paul, who has a knack for getting everyone involved, out of the picture should also be part of the Nuggets’ game plan. Once the Nuggets find a way to neutralize the Suns’ star guards, this series could go their way.