Nuggets head to Western Conference finals; Celtics, 76ers head to Game 7

PHOENIX (AP) — Nikola Jokic scored 32 points in another triple-double, Jamal Murray added 26 and the Denver Nuggets advanced to the Western Conference finals for the first time since 2020 by beating the short-handed Phoenix Suns 125-100 in Game 6 on Thursday night.

Denver’s series victory comes two seasons after the Nuggets were embarrassed in a second-round postseason sweep by the Suns. This time, it was the Suns getting blown out on their home floor to end the season for the second straight year.

The Nuggets will play in the conference finals for the first time since they lost to the Lakers in five games in the Florida bubble during the COVID-19 pandemic. They have never reached the NBA Finals.

The top-seeded Nuggets used a 23-2 run during the latter part of the first quarter to take a 44-26 lead and never looked back. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope — averaging 9.5 points in the playoffs — scored 17 in the first quarter while Jokic added 14.

Caldwell-Pope finished with 21 points. Jokic shot 13 of 18 from the field and added 12 assists and 10 rebounds.

The Suns were playing without injured starters Deandre Ayton and Chris Paul and were eliminated in a rout in the Western Conference semifinals at home for a second straight season. Ayton sustained a rib contusion in Tuesday’s Game 5 while Paul has been out the past four games with a strained left groin.

CELTICS 95, 76ERS 86

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Jayson Tatum missed his first six 3-pointers before he drilled two straight clutch ones late in the game that pushed the Celtics past Philadelphia to send the Eastern Conference semifinals back to Boston for Game 7.

The defending conference champs are in familiar territory. Boston trailed 3-2 last season in the second round against Milwaukee before it won Game 6 on the road and the clincher at home.

Game 7 is Sunday.

Tatum, who averaged 30.1 points in the regular season, never stopped shooting even as the misses kept coming. He missed 14 of his first 15 shots overall from the floor and his ineffectiveness was a key reason the Celtics couldn’t hold a 16-point lead.

With a shot at their first conference final since 2001 at stake, the Sixers slogged through the first half before Joel Embiid flashed his MVP form and rallied the Sixers to a fourth-quarter lead.

Tyrese Maxey hit two free throws with 5:25 left for an 83-81 edge.

And that was it for Philly.

Tatum buried one 3 for the 84-83 lead and a second that made it 87-83 and put the Celtics in firm control of Game 6.

Embiid and Tyrese Maxey each scored 26 points for the 76ers.

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AP NBA: https://apnews.com/hub/NBA and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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