Playoffs 2021

NBA Playoffs 2021: Down 3-0, history doesn't bode well for Denver Nuggets

Behind yet another dominating performance from the backcourt duo of Chris Paul and Devin Booker, who combined for 55 points, Phoenix took a commanding 3-0 lead in this best-of-seven series with a 116-102 win in a Game 3 more lopsided than the final tally indicated.

No team falling behind 3-0 in a playoff series has ever recovered to advance (0-142 all-time) to the next round, and Phoenix continues to prove it isn't conceding anything going into Sunday's (ET) potential closeout game at Ball Arena.

"This is the first time in my career I've ever been up 3-0 in a series," said Paul, who has produced 34 assists in the series with just three turnovers while scoring 30 total points in the fourth quarter on 12-of-13 shooting. "So, just staying in the moment, understanding the importance of every game and knowing, too, that even though its 3-0, as long as they're over there being led by Mike Malone, that team over there is gonna keep fighting."

The situation reminds us all of how Denver became the only team in NBA history last year in the bubble to bounce back in the same postseason from two deficits of 3-1.

The problem is the Nuggets need to find a way just to get to the "one."

"The mood is definitely one of frustration," Denver coach Michael Malone said. "My only thing to our guys is, we're down 3-0. We can't try to win four games in a row in Game 4. Our whole focus is on trying to win a game. The last thing I want to see is the Phoenix Suns pushing a broom across that court after Game 4. The one thing I don't want is for us to go out just quietly into that good night. I hope we show some real fight and resolve and force this series to go back to Phoenix for a Game 5."

Better third-quarter performances from the Nuggets might serve as a solid starting point. Phoenix has outscored the Nuggets by at least nine points in the third of all three games.

Denver trailed by just four points at intermission in this one, only to watch Phoenix race away with an 8-2 run over the final 1:58 of the third to go up 14 points headed into the final frame.

"It certainly wasn't anything on my part, not a schematic thing or some clever speech," said Williams, whose timeout preceded the surge. "I'm just grateful we've had those types of third quarters. I wish I could give you something to write about some chess piece that I moved or something. We've been able to get stops and consecutive stops in the third quarter and that really gives us a lot of energy and juice because we can get out in transition."

The juice Williams described certainly dripped onto the pages of the final game book, as Phoenix outscored Denver 12-2 on the break, in addition to pouring in 20 points off the Nuggets' 14 turnovers.

On a night in which Nikola Jokic received his MVP trophy in a pregame ceremony, Denver led for just 24 seconds. Jokic racked up a game-high 32 points to go with 20 rebounds and 10 assists, becoming just the third player in playoff history to produce a 30-20-10 line alongside Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (1970) and Wilt Chamberlain (1967).

It still wasn't enough of a counterpunch to floor the Suns led by Booker and Paul, who finished with 28 and 27 points, respectively. Take Jokic out of the equation, and Booker and Paul nearly doubled up Denver's other four starters by themselves. Jokic and Michael Porter Jr. finished as the only double-digit scorers in the Nuggets starting lineup, shooting a combined 18 of 42 from the field and 5 of 12 from deep.

All of Phoenix's starters once again scored in double figures.

Will Barton and Monte Morris tallied a combined 35 points off the bench for Denver, which might need that duo to play more minutes in Game 4 to avoid elimination.

Having captured six straight wins this postseason with an average margin of victory of 17.8 points, Phoenix is only one win away from advancing to the Western Conference Finals for the first time since 2010. The Suns are 2-0 all-time when they lead a series 3-0.

Denver, meanwhile, is coming off three consecutive losses for the first time since early February.

"I think the mindset is, let's try and leave everything out there," Jokic said. "If we lose, we're out. So, we just need to go out there, fight and give everything we've got in Game 4. That's the mindset."

Michael C. Wright is a senior writer for NBA.com. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA or its clubs.

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