The first half of the NBA match between the Phoenix Suns and the Denver Nuggets was a tale of two halves. The teams were as close a first half as any fan could have hoped for, but Chris Paul and the Suns gained charge in the third quarter and never looked back, winning 122-105.

Paul showed excellent form and achieved 21 points, 11 assists, and six rebounds. Deandre Ayton, Mikal Bridges, and Devin Booker combined for 64 points and 19 rebounds. With 22 points and nine rebounds, Nikola Jokic led the Nuggets, but his effort wasn’t enough to keep the game competitive down the line.

TNT will broadcast Game 2 on Wednesday night when these two teams will face for the second time.

Chris Paul’s Performance:

After hurting his shoulder in Game 1 against the Los Angeles Lakers, Paul looked fantastic in Game 4 of Phoenix’s first-round series against the Lakers, but his subsequent two games were disappointing. He only scored 17 points on 33.3% shooting when the Suns defeated the Lakers, so there was no knowing how he’d do against a healthy Nuggets squad. After only five points in the first half, it appeared that his shoulder was still far from 100 percent.

Any doubts regarding Paul’s injury were dispelled in the second half. Chris Paul is in good health. He alone scored 14 points in the fourth quarter, displaying his usual mid-range prowess after consistently finding the matchup he desired through pick-and-roll switch-hunting. He made high-velocity passes all over the floor and appeared to be speedier than he was in the Lakers series. This was the Paul that the Suns traded for, the one that helped them become a contender in the first place. Phoenix’s title chances should be improving by the day now that Paul is back to his best.

Differences in both squads Depth:

If we’re honest about Denver’s current situation. Three of the team’s top five guards are out, and one of them, Jamal Murray, is a star. The Nuggets’ bench players are better than most, but it’s striking that they lost a game by 17 points while one of their starters, Aaron Gordon, has a positive plus-minus for the game, at plus-2. Austin Rivers was a net neutrality advocate.

Of course, when Monte Morris is minus-28, that doesn’t mean much. That has nothing to do with Morris, who was outstanding in the Portland series. Denver is currently so depleted that it has such a skill deficit that keeping up with a club like the Suns is practically impossible when it comes to its bench units.

Looking at the Phoenix’s score box, they scored 122 points without any single player making ten field goals. Out of five, four of their starting player’s scored between 20 to 23 points. All of their reserves who played a few spare minutes also had positive points differentials. Cameron Payne has been a starting-caliber point guard in this playoffs, and the Suns signed him for the bare minimum. Milwaukee released Torrey Craig amid the season, but the Suns are getting good usage out of him. They’ve done such a superb job of filling out their bench that they’re sure to suffer a few injuries. They’ve had so many in Denver that they’re at a severe disadvantage.

Eyes on Ayton:

A case to be made into this series that Deandre Ayton’s greatest vulnerability versus Denver would be his lack of fitness. During the regular season, he averaged roughly 30 minutes per game, and given the quality around him, those minutes weren’t necessarily very taxing. Guarding Nikola Jokic is an entirely different story since Jokic often plays 40 or more minutes in the playoffs. Phoenix can’t afford to scale Ayton up to match him. Frank Kaminsky and Dario Saric are not capable of defending Jokic.

However, towards the second half of this game, Jokic was the one who appeared tired, not Ayton. Despite a 5-of-6 start from the field, Phoenix’s centre limited the probable MVP to 22 points on 10-of-23 shooting. Jokic thrives on the mismatches that lesser teams frequently offer him. Because of his passing, he can’t be doubled in the post, but unconventional centres aren’t large enough to stop him from scoring. On the other side, Ayton is, and he handled Jokic well enough to keep him from ripping apart the Suns as a passer.

After thriving in Phoenix’s first playoffs series against the Lakers, it was a promising start to Ayton’s second. This leap couldn’t have come at a better time for Ayton. He’ll be extension-eligible at the end of the season, and if there was any doubt going into the playoffs, it now appears certain that the Suns will reward him with a max contract as a reward for his outstanding season.