Nuggets rout Suns to advance, Celtics force Game 7

by Jacob Fuller

Rob Issa, FISM News

Nikola Jokic and the Denver Nuggets did what Joel Embiid and the Philadelphia 76ers couldn’t accomplish.

Jokic scored 32 points and recorded another triple-double to lead the Nuggets into the Western Conference Finals with a 125-100 victory over the Phoenix Suns on Thursday night.

The 76ers couldn’t close out the Boston Celtics and the teams will face off in Game 7 on Sunday with a berth in the Eastern Conference Finals on the line.

Jokic, the two-time NBA MVP who was runner-up for the award behind Embiid this season, scored 14 of his points in a dominant first quarter as Denver jumped out to a 44-26 lead and never looked back.

Jokic finished with 10 rebounds and 12 assists, Jamal Murray had 26 points and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope added 21 to lead the No. 1 seed Nuggets to the next round.

“We knew what to expect,” Jokic said. “We had the same mindset as if we were playing at home. Just be aggressive, move them from the spots, make it rough, make them make tough shots, and I think we did it.”

Cameron Payne led the Suns with 31 points, Kevin Durant had 23 and Devin Booker scored just 12 in a disappointing end to Phoenix’s season.

The Suns were never in the game on their home floor, a poor showing in an elimination game. They were playing without injured starters Deandre Ayton and Chris Paul.

CELTICS’ DEFENSE KEEPS THEM ALIVE

In Philadelphia, Jayson Tatum scored 16 of his 19 points in the fourth quarter to lift the Celtics to a 95-86 season-saving win over the 76ers to even their semifinals series.

Tatum missed 14 of his first 15 shots, including all six 3-pointers but he made five of his six shots when it mattered most. Tatum hit a 3-pointer to give Boston an 84-83 lead and then nailed another to extend the lead to four points with 3:35 remaining. His next 3 increased the lead to 92-84 and one more in the final minute iced it.

“I kept looking at the time,” Tatum said. “I’ve got time, I’ve got time to make a difference. I believed that the whole time.”

Embiid had 26 points and 10 rebounds but wasn’t much of a factor down the stretch as Philadelphia rallied from a 16-point deficit to take the lead only to relinquish it.

“We stopped moving the ball,” Embiid said. “I don’t think I touched the ball the last 4 minutes of the game. Missed a lot of good looks. I didn’t touch the ball, though.”

The Sixers missed 26 of 34 3-pointers.

“I think the whole game, I don’t think we trusted very well,” coach Doc Rivers said.

It’s a make-miss league and they were 15-for-35 from the 3. We were 8-for-34. I would say we had a lot of wide-open 3s. We didn’t make them. I didn’t like how we played overall offensively, though. Down the stretch, gotta play through your big fella more. Didn’t think the ball went there.

The reigning Eastern Conference champion Celtics rallied from a 3-2 series deficit in the second round against Milwaukee last year.

Marcus Smart led Boston with 22 points, Jaylen Brown had 17 and Malcolm Brogdon added 16. But Tatum was the difference-maker.

“I told him a lot of times, ‘I got your back. We’re in this together,’” Tatum said of coach Joe Mazzulla. “I love the relationship that me and Joe have.”

Tyrese Maxey had 26 points for Philadelphia while James Harden only scored 13. The 76ers now have to win in Boston for the third time in the series to advance to the East finals for the first time since 2001.

“If I have to go to war, Game 7 in Boston, I would want to go with this group,” Maxey said. “I know we’ve got some fighters, I know we’ve got some resilient guys. I’m ready to get it on.”

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