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Jae Crowder looked forward to seeing teammate Devin Booker play "meaningful basketball" for the first time in the postseason.
"A chance to play for the Larry O'Brien Trophy, that's what it's all about," Crowder said.
Now Booker and the Phoenix Suns are four wins away from reaching the NBA finals for the first time since 1993 after sweeping the Denver Nuggets.
"It feels great," Booker said. "It's hard to put into words, but this is what I've trained for, this is what I've prepared for. I don't work out in the summer thinking that my season is going to be over after 82 games. So I put myself in a mental space where every shot counts. I try to envision the physicality even when I'm out there by myself. So every time I train, every time I work out, I'm thinking postseason or I'm thinking these type of games right here."
Before breaking down matchups between the Utah Jazz or Los Angeles Clippers in the conference finals that starts next week, here's a look back at Sunday's 125-118 victory in Denver as Chris Paul and Booker combined for 71 points.
Devin Booker and Jae Crowder talk about the Phoenix Suns advancing to Western Conference finals after sweeping the Denver Nuggets. Arizona Republic
Player of Sunday's Game 4: Chris Paul
Booker delivered another impressive closeout performance with 34 points, 11 rebounds and four assists.
Mikal Bridges chipped in 14 points, Deandre Ayton added 12 points and Crowder finished with nine points, hitting 2-of-3 from 3, 10 rebounds and four blocks.
As a team, Denver had just three blocks.
As well as the remaining four starters played, Paul, at age 36, once again emerged as the star of stars with a 37-point performance on 14-of-19 shooting in leading Phoenix to a franchise-best seventh consecutive playoff win.
Adding seven assists to just two turnovers, Paul scored 25 in the second half on 10-of-12 shooting. At one point, he hit nine consecutive shots from the field in destroying the Nuggets with the his patented fadeaway midrange jumper.
"He's just an unbelievable basketball player, but more than that, he has a will to win," Suns coach Monty Williams said.
Suns coach Monty Williams and point guard Chris Paul share special moment after reaching Western Conference finals following sweep of Denver Nuggets. Arizona Republic
'I know who I am'
Paul talked during his postgame interview on TNT about people writing him off a couple of years ago after Houston traded him to Oklahoma City, but he once again answered those doubters with another commanding effort.
"I always say this, I know who I am, I know the type of work that I put in and I'm grateful for my team around me," Paul said.
Paul wasn't sure how to process all the emotions of Sunday's game, but was certain about two things.
One, the right shoulder injury he suffered is Game 1 against the defending Los Angeles Lakers is no longer an issue.
"I'm good now," Paul said.
Two, he had a call to make when leaving Ball Arena on Sunday night.
"I'm going to get on the bus and call my kids," he said.img itemprop="url" src="https://www.gannett-cdn.com/presto/2021/04/08/PPHX/491766c2-024a-4ffb-9c8f-8327909e2481-cent02-7f9eyiuhp83ipi2ghle_original.jpg?width=540&height=&fit=bounds&auto=webp" alt="Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert (27) is tied up by Phoenix Suns forward Jae Crowder (99) during the third quarter in Phoenix April 7, 2021." width="540" data-mycapture-src="" data-mycapture-sm-src=""">>
Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert (27) is tied up by Phoenix Suns forward Jae Crowder (99) during the third quarter in Phoenix April 7, 2021. (Photo: Michael Chow, Michael Chow/The Republic)
Up next: Clippers or Jazz?
They both present challenges for Phoenix.
Utah takes and makes 3s, has All-Star Donovan Mitchell playing downhill and the rim protection of now three-time NBA defensive player of the year, Rudy Gobert.
Plus the Jazz will have homecourt advantage being the top overall seed .
Los Angeles possesses a 1-2 punch of Kawhi Leonard, who can takeover any game, and Paul George leading a squad lethal from 3 that plays with an attitude.
Plus the Clippers have Rajon Rondo, who has the basketball IQ to match Paul.
The Suns finished a combined 4-2 against the Jazz and Clippers in the regular season.
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3-0 vs. Jazz
The Suns swept Utah in finishing just a game behind the Jazz for the NBA's top record.
Dec. 31: Suns 106, Jazz 95 (at UTA).
April 7: Suns 117, Jazz 113 OT (at PHX).
April 30: Suns 121, Jazz 100 (at PHX).
Mitchell (right ankle) and Mike Conley (right hamstring tightness) didn't play in the third game as those injuries remain an issue.
Conley hasn't played in the conference semifinals series due to the hamstring while Mitchell hurt the same right ankle in Game 3 that kept him sidelined for Utah's final 16 games in the regular season and Game 1 against Memphis in the first round.
If these injuries remain an issue, the Jazz are certainly less formidable.img itemprop="url" src="https://www.gannett-cdn.com/presto/2021/01/02/PPHX/38709138-04d1-4a69-88c3-fefe9d200056-AP21001180663788.jpg?width=540&height=&fit=bounds&auto=webp" alt="Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell (45) goes to the basket as Phoenix Suns center Deandre Ayton (22) defends during the second half of an NBA basketball game Thursday, Dec. 31, 2020, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)." width="540" data-mycapture-src="" data-mycapture-sm-src=""">>
Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell (45) goes to the basket as Phoenix Suns center Deandre Ayton (22) defends during the second half of an NBA basketball game Thursday, Dec. 31, 2020, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer). (Photo: Rick Bowmer, AP)
Looking back on the regular season, the one consistent in the Jazz-Suns series is Utah couldn't find the range from 3.
Leading the NBA in 3-point attempts (43.0) and makes (16.7) per game in the regular season, Utah shot 38.9% from 3.
The Jazz didn't match those averages against Phoenix
Game 1: 12-of-34 (35.2%).
Game 2: 11-of-44 (25%).
Game 3: 14-of-39 (35.8%).
Total: 37-of-117 (31.6%).
Apr 8, 2021; Los Angeles, California, USA; LA Clippers guard Paul George (13) defends Phoenix Suns guard Chris Paul (3) during the first quarter at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports (Photo: Robert Hanashiro, Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports)
1-2 vs. Clippers
The Booker-Mitchell matchup is a thirsty one as both fan bases believe they have the better guy.
Gobert versus Ayton? Very nice, but Suns-Clippers is a spicier matchup.
The Clippers took the first two regular-season games before Phoenix won the final one.
Jan. 3: Clippers 112, Suns 107 (at PHX).
April 8: Clippers 113, Suns 103 (at LAC).
April 28: Suns 109, Clippers 101 (at PHX).
Phoenix's second loss came on the second of a back-to-back after beating Utah in overtime at home while Leonard (right ankle sprain), Patrick Beverley (left hand fracture) and Serge Ibaka (low back tightness) sat the third game.
However, the most memorable matchup was the first one.img itemprop="url" src="https://www.gannett-cdn.com/presto/2021/04/09/PPHX/b196f041-dd2f-4e78-9402-038796d6430e-USATSI_15867848.jpg?width=540&height=&fit=bounds&auto=webp" alt="Apr 8, 2021; Los Angeles, California, USA; LA Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard (2) moves to the basket defend by Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker (1) during the first quarter at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports" width="540" data-mycapture-src="" data-mycapture-sm-src=""">>
Apr 8, 2021; Los Angeles, California, USA; LA Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard (2) moves to the basket defend by Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker (1) during the first quarter at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports (Photo: Robert Hanashiro, Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports)
George and Booker got into a very heated verbal exchange that left George saying "it's a lot of chirping." The Clippers actually led by as many as 31 points before Phoenix made a furious second-half comeback to cut that lead to one early in the fourth.
Then George and Booker went at it after George reacted to Cameron Payne falling on him trying to block his shot. They were each hit with a technical foul as the two were shouting at each other from opposite ends of the court after being separated.
"I don't talk, I play my game, but for whatever reason, it's dude's talking," George said.
Booker called George "soft" while George told Booker to "watch your mouth."
After the game, Booker said the situation was "nothing, honesty."
Paul George and Devin Booker got into a verbal altercation during the fourth quarter of Phoenix's 112-107 loss Sunday to the Los Angeles Clippers. Arizona Republic
'We're not going to let you play comfortable'
Uh, OK, but George and Paul got into it earlier in the fourth.
Paul drew a foul on George and went to the floor with his hand around his groin area.
As Paul was down, he and George exchanged words. The chatter continued as Paul left the court.
"It is what it is, man," said Paul later in the week.
That first game set the tone for how the remaining two were played.
"We're not going to let you play comfortable," Ayton said.
Remember how their bubble matchup ended last year with Booker hitting a jumper over George and Leonard at the buzzer for the win.
While Jazz-Suns provides a battle between the NBA's top two teams, Clippers-Suns has the makings for an edgy, intense series.
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Source : https://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/nba/suns/2021/06/14/after-sweeping-nuggets-suns-await-jazz-clippers-winner-conference-finals/7692753002/5278