Updated: Sep 7, 2021
As we get deeper into the playoffs, the intensity rises and the pressure to execute becomes more and more crucial. That has been evident thus far in these second-round matchups in each conference, with the Brooklyn Nets vs. Milwaukee Bucks in the East, and Philadelphia Sixers vs. Atlanta Hawks. In the Western Conference, you have the rising, hot Phoenix Suns, who just swept the Denver Nuggets, advancing to the Western Conference Finals to play the Los Angeles Clippers.
The Phoenix Suns took care of business against the offensively challenged Denver Nuggets in Game Four, winning 125-118, to sweep the Jamal Murray-less Nuggets 4-0. The dynamic backcourt duo of Chris Paul and Devin Booker combined for a whopping 71 points, showing why they are one of the best backcourts in the league. Deandre Ayton finished with 12 points and Mikal Bridges with 14. The Suns shot a blistering 51% from the field and 93% from the foul line.
The reigning 2021 NBA MVP, Nikola Jokic, had 22 points,11 rebounds, and four assists. The Suns double-teamed Jokic all night, making it tough for him. It led to Jokic’s ejection in the third quarter after a hard foul on Phoenix guard Cameron Payne in a controversial call. Jokic and Booker became involved in a scuffle that got the Serbian center ejected from the game, with 3:52 left in the third quarter. The Suns will move on to the Western Conference Finals for the first time since 2010 to play the Los Angeles Clippers.
Speaking of the Jazz vs Clippers, the Clippers closed out the series 4-2 after taking Game Five, 119-111 in Utah with its All Star forward Paul George scoring 37 points, grabbing 16 rebounds, along with five assists. George stepped up big time, with Kawhi Leonard going down reportedly with an ACL injury in a Game 4 win. With Leonard gone for the rest of the series, others stepped up, such Marcus Morris with 25 points and Reggie Jackson with 22, respectively. After the Jazz took the first two games in blazing fashion, behind the play of its electric star guard in Donovan Mitchell, they have seemingly slowed down. Utah dropped the last two games and Mitchell scored just 21 in Game 5 at home, while dealing with the ankle injury he suffered earlier in the season that kept him out 19 games. Bojan Bogdanovic was leading for the Jazz with 32 points, but could not take advantage of a Kawhi-less Clippers to take momentum back in this series.
The Jazz ultimately got closed out in Game Six, 131-119, behind Terrance Mann’s 39 points, a career-high for the second-year man, and George’s 28 points. Jackson also helped with 27 points and the team overall shot a scorching 56% from the field and 51% from 3 point range. The Clippers also took great care of the ball, having just six turnovers all game, compared to the Jazz’s 15. Utah’s primary option in Mitchell had a near triple-double finishing with 39 points, nine assists, and nine boards, but he appeared hobbled all night with a debilitating ankle injury, which he incurred in Game 4, hindering his ability to move laterally on the defensive end. The reigning three-time Defensive Player of the Year, Rudy Gobert was exposed on the perimeter in the crucial moments because the Clippers played a small-ball five lineup out. Everyone was able to take him off the dribble and shoot the 3, making him come out to the perimeter.
Reigning Sixth Man of The Year, Jordan Clarkson had 21 points in the first half, but went cold and barely saw the court in the second half. The Jazz ended up blowing an embarrassing 25-point lead to get sent home. The Jazz turnovers cost them an opportunity to move forward, while the Clippers ultimately broke their franchise curse and will play the Phoenix Suns in their first ever Western Conference Finals appearance.