Nugg Love chats with Valley of the Suns Site Expert Jay Dieffenbach about the matchup to look at the matchup from a Phoenix perspective, see what they are looking out for in the series, find out how confident they are about key matchups.
Sean Carroll: Arguably the most important matchup in this series is Nikola Jokic vs Deandre Ayton, how do you think it plays out? Ayton got the better of Jokic in Game 1 and struggled to contain the ball handler while also tagging the rolling Ayton, is this rinse and repeat for the six more games?
Jay Dieffenbach: Jokic is a phenomenal athlete but every battle with Ayton seems to end in a virtual draw. As the league’s MVP, though, Jokic has to do better than Monday’s fourth quarter (zero points, zero rebounds in more than six minutes). Ayton may be in Jokic’s head a little and unless Ayton finds foul trouble, I’d expect the standoff to continue. Not sure there will be six more games unless Jokic begins acting like an Alpha.
Carroll: Jokic got Jusuf Nurkic in foul trouble last series and bullied Portland’s backups. How do you think Ayton’s backups will fare in this matchup? On top of that, is there anything to read into Dario Daric getting the backup minutes instead of Frank Kaminsky this round?
Dieffenbach: Kaminsky has been pretty bad and lacks the confidence to do anything but take up space, so Suns fans likely enjoyed seeing the undersized but always-efforting Saric on the court. It’s all about the matchups with the opponent’s second unit. Monty Williams kept a close eye on Jokic, subbing Ayton in and out as Jokic was subbed in and out. Saric is active — certainly can’t finish at the rim — and should prove useful during Ayton’s rest periods.
Dieffenbach: Watching Porter this season, I see a streak-shooting guy with incredible upside — but upside for a future time. In this series, Porter likely will overthink his situation while mixing in a few All-Star worthy offensive performances. Bridges is just now getting his due on a national stage. He’s simply among the leading defenders — physical and mental dominance — in the NBA.
Carroll: What did Phoenix do well in the second half of Game 1 in your opinion? Is it repeatable?
Dieffenbach: The Suns played as a full team, with their heart and soul, analyzing the Nuggets in the third quarter and then executing the plan — and executing the Nuggets in the fourth. Chris Paul, when close to 100 percent, is as much a driver as Devin Booker. Aaron Gordon used “soft” and “scared” to describe what happened. I’d use “Chris Paul at 100 percent” to describe it.
Carroll: I have to ask, are you smiling when you see Aaron Gordon post up for half the shot clock on Devin Booker? Would you rather Denver try and ‘exploit’ that matchup instead of sticking to their bread and butter?
Dieffenbach: Any time Jokic is finding decreased usage rates, Suns fans are smiling. The switches the Suns too-eagerly employ can be troubling, though, with Bridges-Jokic and Gordon-Booker creating the potential for foul trouble. But I think Suns fans most fear an offense beginning — and usually ending — with Jokic handling the decisions.
Carroll: Outside of Jokic and MPJ, are there any other parts of this Denver Nuggets roster that scare you?
Dieffenbach: There are options that went unused in Game 1. With Austin Rivers in the starting lineup, I think that took away the instant juice he could provide off the bench. That leaves the dominant Suns depth with more of an advantage over Denver’s second unit. Monte Morris and Rivers finding a groove — and opening the interior with their 3-point success — could serve to steal a game or two. I guess you’d have to include the possible return of Will Barton, too, if you’re given to worrying.
Carroll: In your opinion, can the winner of this series make it to the NBA Finals? Maybe even go all the way?
Dieffenbach: Denver, with Jamal Murray, had a big chance. Absent a major confidence turnaround from MPJ and big contributions from Rivers and Morris, I think they’re toast. The Suns have proved all season they can play with the best, and the playoff inexperience — after the Lakers series — doesn’t seem to be a thing anymore.
But win it all? Can you guarantee James Harden is out until July? The Brooklyn Nets are heavy favorites, and justifiably so. But Suns fans will happily take their chances if they reach the Finals for the first time since 1993!
Carroll: Thanks for sharing your thoughts on the series Jay and to our readers, be sure to check out the Valley of the Suns website to see their coverage of this series and the Suns as a whole.