Phoenix should feel heated right now.
The Suns pushed Denver to six games in the Western Conference semifinals and then watched the No. 1-seeded Nuggets sweep the Lakers to reach the NBA Finals for the first time.
Denver has lost three playoff games this postseason.
Two setbacks were against Phoenix as the series was tied 2-2 before Denver won Game 5 at home and Game 6 by 25 points before an 80th consecutive sellout crowd of 17,071 at Footprint Center.
The Suns are the only team to hold the Nuggets under 100 points in a playoff game this season in Game 2’s loss in Denver, 97-87.
This was a winnable series for the Suns even with Chris Paul missing the final four games with a left groin strain and Deandre Ayton sitting Game 6 with a rib contusion after taking a knee from a driving Bruce Brown in the first half of Game 5 — and being thoroughly outplayed by two-time NBA MVP Nikola Jokic.
Monty Williams’ rotations were a mess all series and he didn’t utilize his timeouts, Kevin Durant shot 22.2% from 3 through five games and Devin Booker did something to his foot in Game 5 — but the Suns were playing at home with a chance to force a Game 7 back in Denver.
Then it was all over.
They lost Game 6 in embarrassing fashion to suddenly end a season that had championship aspirations when Phoenix dealt Mikal Bridges, Cam Johnson, Jae Crowder, four first-round picks and a pick swap to Brooklyn for T.J. Warren and Durant right before the Feb. 9 trade deadline.
As ugly as Game 6 got with the Nuggets leading by as many as 32 points in the first half in taking an 81-51 halftime lead, Game 5 is the one that should really haunt the Suns.
Phoenix overcame a 15-point deficit in the first quarter to take a 48-47 lead on a Terrence Ross 3 with 1:39 left in the first half. They went into halftime down only three.
Then Denver opened the third quarter on a 7-0 run to take a double-digit lead.
The Nuggets proceeded to outscore Phoenix, 39-25, in the third and led by as many as 21 points in the quarter, taking a 91-74 lead going into the fourth.
In that same quarter, Durant drew that double technical with Brown after he shoved Jokic away from Phoenix’s sideline huddle.
Looking back on it, that third quarter was the beginning of the end for the Suns.
They lose Game 5 in Denver, get walloped in Game 6 at home, fired Williams two days after that and are now searching for someone to replace a guy who coached them to the finals in 2021 and a franchise-best 64 wins the following season in winning NBA Coach of the Year honors.
The Nuggets then proceeded to sweep the Lakers by a total margin of 24 points.
More:Nuggets sweep LeBron James, Lakers, advance to first NBA Finals
The Lakers should’ve won Game 2. Up 10 late in the third quarter before Jamal Murray torched them for 23 points in the fourth quarter of Denver’s comeback victory.
They returned home for Game 3 to find a way to rally back from a double-digit deficit to go up one with 7:48 left in the fourth, only to yield a 13-0 Denver run to go down 3-0 in the series.
No NBA team has ever come back from a 3-0 deficit to win a playoff series.
Update. No NBA team still hasn’t rallied from a 3-0 deficit to win a series.
How Los Angeles dropped Game 4 with LeBron James unable to force overtime on that final drive and him hinting retirement afterward shifted attention off the outcome a little bit, but the Lakers still got swept.
Who will the Nuggets face next?Boston Celtics vs. Miami Heat picks, predictions
Denver’s toughest playoff challenge to date has been Phoenix.
If the Nuggets win it all in their first-ever trip to the finals, the Suns should really be heated.
They had Denver at 2-2 with all the momentum and lost it — and the series — with a bad third quarter in Game 5 and a horrible Game 6 at home.
Had Phoenix eliminated the Nuggets, a Suns-Lakers series would’ve been classic and probably still ongoing.
With homecourt advantage and the return of Paul and Ayton from injuries, the Suns, not the Nuggets, defeat the Lakers to advance to the finals.
For subscribers:More than ever, Phoenix Suns will go as far as Devin Booker takes them
Have opinion about current state of the Suns? Reach Suns Insider Duane Rankin at email@example.com or contact him at 480-787-1240. Follow him on Twitter at @DuaneRankin.
Support local journalism. Start your online subscription.