A rematch of last year’s Western Conference Semifinals between the Nuggets and Suns favored the visitors from Mile High this time around.
The Nuggets beat the Suns, 110-98, in a game that was well within Denver’s control and long out of reach for Phoenix — albeit a push from the Suns late in the second that gave them the edge heading into halftime, 58-51.
Relying on 2020-21 MVP Nikola Jokić to spearhead the offense, Denver rebounded with 34 total points in the third as Jokić, Barton and Porter, Jr. began to pour in shots.
The Nuggets held in strong with a 25-point fourth quarter, while the Suns fizzled out with only 16 points to watch the game quickly get away from them early in the final quarter. Jokić led the team in scoring with 27 points, adding 13 rebounds.
The 31-year-old Barton stepped up in the winning effort for Denver: contributing 20 points, six rebounds and five assists in 32 minutes played. Jeff Green was serviceable off the bench with 13 points.
Bridges led the night in scoring for Phoenix (16), while Paul and Ayton trailed with 15 points a piece. Paul notched a double-double on the night; adding 10 assists to keep the offense humming best he could.
As for Ayton, a lackluster opening night performance continues an ongoing bad streak for the player and his organization, stemming from the offseason — with the former No. 1 overall pick awaiting a max extension, and no deal secured by season’s start. Ayton nabbed 6 rebounds for the night, which was a faint effort compared to his 10.6 average from last season.
With Booker having an off night, hope endures that the Suns will eventually learn to jell together and return to the caliber of team that made it to the Finals.
The Nuggets move on to play the San Antonio Spurs on Friday, with Phoenix playing their own contest against the Southland’s Lakers team on that date.