NBA: Suns slam Nuggets again for 3-0 series lead, 76ers grab edge with win at Atlanta

(REUTERS) – Devin Booker scored 28 points, Chris Paul had 27 and the visiting Phoenix Suns beat the Denver Nuggets 116-102 on Friday (June 11) night to take a 3-0 lead in their NBA Western Conference semi-final series.

Deandre Ayton had 10 points and 15 rebounds, Jae Crowder scored 14 and Mikal Bridges added 11 for Phoenix, which will aim for a sweep of the best-of-seven series on Sunday in Denver. Paul contributed eight assists.

In the earlier game, Joel Embiid collected 27 points, nine rebounds and eight assists to fuel the visiting Philadelphia 76ers to a 127-111 victory over the Atlanta Hawks in Game 3 of their Eastern Conference semi-final series.

He and teammate Ben Simmons each scored 11 points to highlight a third quarter in which the 76ers outscored the Hawks by a 34-19 margin. They coasted from there to seize a 2-1 lead heading into Game 4 on Monday in Atlanta.

The Suns, who were second in the West in the regular season, have won six consecutive play-off games and are one win from advancing to the conference finals for the first time since 2009-10 – the last season in which they made the play-offs before this year.

Nikola Jokic had 32 points, 20 rebounds and 10 assists for the Nuggets on the night he received his National Basketball Association Most Valuable Player award. Monte Morris scored 21, Michael Porter Jr had 15 and Will Barton added 14 for Denver.

Phoenix jumped out to a 21-8 lead early and were on top 37-27 after the first quarter. The Suns never trailed after being down 3-2.

Denver closed within 40-36 in the second quarter, but Torrey Craig hit a three-pointer and a layup to start a 9-0 Suns run that got the lead back to 13.

It was a 10-point gap late in the second before the Nuggets scored the final six points of the half to trail just 59-55 at intermission.

Phoenix opened the third quarter on an 11-3 run to go ahead 70-58 on a floater by Booker. Denver tried to cut the deficit but two free throws and a pair of pull-up jumpers by Paul kept the lead at 10.

Following a short jumper by Jokic that made it 82-74, Cameron Payne and Cameron Johnson hit two three-pointers to give the Suns an 88-74 lead, and they took a 90-76 edge into the fourth quarter.

Phoenix started the final period by scoring the first six points to lead by 20 with 10:17 left. The Nuggets called a time-out and responded with seven straight points and had several chances to get closer before Crowder hit a trey.

Jokic picked up a technical foul, Paul hit the free throw and then sank two jumpers to make it 104-85. Paul sealed the outcome with a corner three-pointer with 2:43 left to give Phoenix a 17-point edge.

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Against the Hawks, Tobias Harris (22 points) reached the 20-point plateau for the sixth straight game. He went 10-for-16 from the floor, helping the 76ers shoot a blistering 58.2 per cent overall and 47.6 per cent from 3-point range (10 of 21).

Australian Simmons finished with 18 points and seven assists, and Furkan Korkmaz scored 14 points, 11 of them in the first quarter.

The Turk saw extended playing time in place of starter Danny Green, who left the game in the first quarter due to a right calf strain and did not return.

Trae Young scored 16 of his 28 points in the first half for the Hawks, who saw their 13-game home winning streak come to a halt. John Collins added 23 points and Bogdan Bogdanovic had 19. Danilo Gallinari scored 17 points, and Clint Capela grabbed a game-high 16 rebounds.

Ahead by five at half-time, Philadelphia bolted out of the blocks to begin the third quarter, making their first eight shots from the floor to secure an 80-62 lead. Seth Curry drained a three-pointer and a pair of short jumpers to highlight the 76ers’ 19-6 spurt.

Seth Curry in action against the Hawks. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

Philadelphia pushed their advantage to 22 points in the fourth quarter before Atlanta scored 13 of the next 17 points to cut the deficit to 110-97 with 5:13 to play.

Embiid was fouled on a drive and Young was whistled for a technical foul to halt the momentum.

Earlier, Shake Milton sank a mid-range jumper and a trey to extend Philadelphia’s lead to 41-30 with 8:18 remaining in the second quarter. Atlanta trimmed the gap to 61-56 after Young made a driving layup just before half-time.

Korkmaz’s big performance off the bench staked the 76ers to a 28-20 lead at the end of the first quarter. He sank all three of his shots from the floor – including two from three-point range – and hit all three of his foul shots. He missed five of his six field-goal attempts the rest of the night, and he never attempted another free throw.

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