Devin Booker had 36 points and 12 assists, Kevin Durant also scored 36 points and the Phoenix Suns beat the Denver Nuggets 129-124 on Sunday to even their Western Conference semifinal playoff series at two games apiece.
Backup guard Landry Shamet made four crucial 3-pointers in the fourth quarter to keep the Suns ahead. Denver lost despite a huge game from MVP runner-up Nikola Jokic, who poured in 53 points on 20-of-30 shooting.
Jokic used his physical play to knock down several big buckets, even ripping the ball away from Suns owner Mat Ishbia at one point after the ball went out of bounds, which earned the Nuggets All-Star a technical foul.
The series returns to Denver for Game 5 on Tuesday.
The Suns took a 98-92 lead into the fourth quarter after a scoring flurry from Booker, who had 17 points in the third. Phoenix wouldn’t trail in the fourth, though Denver didn’t go quietly.
The Nuggets trailed 116-106 with 4:55 remaining but never panicked, slowly cutting into the lead. They pulled within 123-120 with 22.4 seconds left but TJ Warren made two free throws to push the margin back to five.
Booker — averaging 36 points on 60% shooting in these playoffs — was hot once again, shooting 14 of 18 from the field, including 3 of 4 on 3-pointers. Shamet finished with 19 points, shooting 5 of 8 on 3s.
Jamal Murray added 28 points and seven assists for the Nuggets.
Suns point guard Chris Paul missed his second straight game with a strained left groin suffered during Game 2.
The Suns took a 63-61 lead by halftime. Jokic had 24 points for the Nuggets before the break while Durant had 21 for the Suns.
JOKIC VS ISHBIA
Jokic was assessed a technical foul in the second after a bizarre altercation with Ishbia.
Late in the period, Suns guard Josh Okogie crashed into the seats while trying to save a loose ball. He landed in a group of fans on the baseline that included Ishbia, who grabbed the basketball.
Jokic was trying to get the basketball quickly — apparently so the Nuggets could start their offensive possession — when he tried to take the ball away from Ishbia. The ball flew backward into the crowd, and then Ishbia was knocked backward by Jokic’s elbow.
There were a few minutes of confusion as officials sorted out the weird scene, and then Jokic was assessed a technical foul.
Ishbia told The Associated Press at halftime that he was “fine” and more worried about the game than the altercation. He was back in his usual seats in the second half.
AYTON’S BIG OVATION
Suns center Deandre Ayton was the subject of scorn from media and fans following his subpar performance in Game 3.
Ayton had just four points and nine rebounds in Game 3 and the former No. 1 overall pick was benched in the fourth quarter in favor of Jock Landale.
But the big man got the fans back on his side during the first offensive possession of the night, grabbing three consecutive offensive rebounds before Booker hit a short jumper as the crowd roared. Ayton finished with eight points and eight rebounds.
Nuggets: Aaron Gordon and Michael Porter Jr. each scored 11 points.
Suns: Booker scored 13 points on 5 of 6 shooting in the first quarter. He scored 18 points in the first quarter of Game 3.