LOS ANGELES: Devin Booker scored 47 points and Kevin Durant added 39 as the Phoenix Suns clawed back into their NBA Western Conference semi-final series on Friday with a 121-114 victory over the Denver Nuggets. The Suns, who dropped the first two games of the best-of-seven series in Denver, held firm at home despite the injury absence of veteran point guard Chris Paul. Phoenix were up by 15 at halftime, but the Nuggets – led by a triple-double of 30 points, 17 rebounds and 17 assists from two-time NBA Most Valuable Player Nikola Jokic – didn’t back down.
They edged ahead three times in the third quarter, but every time the Suns had an answer. “It’s that time of year,” said Booker, who added six rebounds, nine assists, three steals and a blocked shot. “We dropped a couple of games on their home floor and we just want to protect ours.” Phoenix scored the first nine points of the fourth quarter and never trailed in the final period as they pulled within 2-1 in the best-of-seven series. Durant, who missed eight of his first nine shot attempts, made just 12 of 31 from the field but sunk 14 of 16 free throws and had 11 points in the fourth quarter.
Jamal Murray led Denver’s scoring with 32 points and Michael Porter Jr added 21 and 12 rebounds, but the Nuggets couldn’t contain Booker and Durant and the Suns will have a chance to level the series when they host game four on Sunday. In the Eastern Conference, Jayson Tatum scored 27 points to lead six Boston players in double figures as the Celtics beat the 76ers 114-102 in Philadelphia to take a 2-1 lead in their series.
Jaylen Brown added 23 points and Al Horford scored 17 for the Celtics, who regained home-court advantage with a second straight victory after dropping game one in Boston. An emotional night in Philadelphia saw Sixers center Joel Embiid accept his Most Valuable Player trophy from NBA commissioner Adam Silver in a pregame ceremony. Chants of “M-V-P” rang out for Cameroon’s Embiid, who celebrated with his parents as he held his toddler son, Arthur – who was clad in a “My dad is the MVP” T-shirt.
The Celtics cut short the celebrations, however, powering to a quick 14-4 lead. Tatum, who scored just seven points in game two, bounced back with a vengeance adding 10 rebounds five assists, two steals and a blocked shot. The Sixers, however, kept it close and led by one after the first quarter. Embiid scored 30 points with 13 rebounds and four blocked shots in his second game back from a sprained knee. But teammates James Harden and Tyrese Maxey struggled. Harden connected on just three of 14 shots on the way to 16 points while Maxey scored 13 points on 4-for-16 shooting.
Awareness and poise
Philadelphia were down by seven at halftime and never led after the break. “We knew we could win,” Tatum told broadcaster ESPN. “This is a great team, the crowd’s electric, you love being in that environment. “But we are not surprised. To win a championship you’ve got to win one on the road. We’ll take it.” “The guys just kept an awareness and a poise,” said Celtics coach Joe Mazzulla, who said he expects game four in Philly on Sunday to be an “absolute war”.
Celtics forward Grant Williams got a scare in the fourth quarter, when a falling Embiid accidentally stepped on his head on a loose ball play. Williams was bloodied, but made light of the incident. “I’m just thankful he didn’t fully lean his weight on it because he definitely got me pretty badly, but then I think he felt like he landed on something so he picked his foot up,” Williams said. — AFP