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Nikola Jokic’s 39 points leads Nuggets past Suns 97-87

Nikola Jokic’s 39 points leads Nuggets past Suns 97-87

DENVER (AP) — Nikola Jokic had 39 points and 16 rebounds to rally the Denver Nuggets to a 97-87 win over Phoenix on Monday night, taking a 2-0 lead over the Suns in the Western Conference semifinals.

Jokic, who learns Tuesday if he’s edged Joel Embiid and Giannis Antetokounmpo for his third consecutive NBA MVP award, recently renamed for Michael Jordan, scored 26 in the second half as the Nuggets erased a seven-point third-quarter deficit.

Jokic’s big night was necessary as Jamal Murray scored just 10 points on 3-of-15 shooting after he scored 34 in the series opener when he had six 3-pointers. Murray was 0 for 9 from long range Monday night.

Aaron Gordon added 16 points and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope added 14 points and went 4 for 4 from beyond the arc, including back-to-back swishes that erased a 73-70 deficit and put the Nuggets ahead for good early in the fourth quarter.

Devin Booker led Phoenix with 35 points and Kevin Durant added 24.

The teams get an extended break before the series resumes with Game 3 in Phoenix on Friday night.

The Suns, who lost Chris Paul to a tight left groin late in the third quarter, took a 73-70 lead thanks to Booker’s 31 points — which matched Jokic’s output — entering the fourth quarter.

The Suns went cold, however, and Denver surged ahead 76-73 on back-to-back 3-pointers by Caldwell-Pope, forcing a Phoenix timeout at the 8:56 mark.

After allowing Denver to take 17 more shots than they had in Game 1, the Suns flipped things Monday night, taking 15 more shots than the Nuggets in the first half, but they led just 42-40 at the break.

The Suns pushed the lead to seven in the third quarter but both Durant and Deandre Ayton picked up their fourth fouls late in the period, taking a seat, and Paul walked gingerly to the locker room at the 4:32 mark and didn’t return.

TIP-INS

Suns: Phoenix held the Nuggets to their lowest-scoring first quarter all season, limiting them to 18 points. ... The Suns didn’t shoot a single free throw in the first half. ... Paul finished with 8 points.

Nuggets: Jokic scored 11 of Denver’s first 14 points but only had 13 by halftime. ... The Nuggets had 68 points by halftime in the series opener but made just 16 first-half shots Monday night. ... Murray was 1 for 7 from the floor before halftime and scored just 4 points before the break.

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