Suns beat Nuggets, 106-103, as Denver falls to 1-4

The Nuggets fought like a team desperate for a win. The Suns played like a veteran team unwilling to give it them.

Chris Paul, Phoenix’s sterling new offseason acquisition, drilled a baseline jumper with seven seconds remaining to give the Suns a 104-100 lead. After Nikola Jokic nailed a 3-pointer to draw within one, Paul sunk two free throws to all-but seal it.

Jamal Murray’s last-second 3-pointer would’ve tied it, but he never got a clean look. Phoenix’s 106-103 win negated Denver’s furious second-half comeback and dropped the Nuggets to 1-4 on the season. Their next chance to remedy their slow start comes Sunday at Minnesota.

Murray’s 31-point effort carried the offense on a night when it was missing Michael Porter Jr. due to contact tracing protocol and Jokic battled frustrating foul trouble all game. Still, Jokic managed 17 points, 11 assists and nine rebounds, falling one board short of his fourth triple-double of the year.

Paul had 21 points and six assists. He was one of three Suns players with at least 20.

Without Porter available, Will Barton got his shot back in the starting lineup but failed to capitalize on the opportunity. In 36 minutes, Barton managed just two points.

Offensively, Gary Harris wasn’t much better. Harris finished with seven points on 2-for-9 shooting, though his defense helped limit Devin Booker to only 22.

Any momentum the Nuggets may have had coming out of halftime was quickly stunted following three quick whistles against Jokic. As his frustration mounted, the rest of Denver’s offense unraveled. After Jokic, both Paul Millsap and Green picked up their fourth fouls in quick succession.

The margin was at 87-71 before the Nuggets found a momentary spark off their bench. PJ Dozier and Isaiah Hartenstein played with the fly-around mentality the second unit had been sorely lacking, and the Nuggets closed the quarter on a 7-0 run. Though Jokic picked up his fifth after briefly returning, Denver trailed just 87-78 heading into the fourth.

Through five games, the second unit has been inconsistent and hardly dependable. Green’s return to the court may have helped stabilize the reserves.

Nuggets coach Michael Malone got his choice before the game. When asked if he’d rather take away the paint or the 3-point line, he chose the arc knowing how badly Denver’s defense had struggled so far.

The Nuggets entered the night allowing 15.3 3-pointers per game – third most in the NBA.

“If I had to pick one, because my answer would be all of the above, but if I had to pick one, I really hope that our 3-point defense is better tonight,” Malone said. “That starts in transition, that starts in energy and effort. It also must come down to discipline. Who am I closing out to? What is our game plan?”

The Suns knew the scouting report.

Phoenix cooked from outside in the first half, draining 8-of-19 3-point attempts over the first two quarters. Their blistering outside shooting coupled with another lifeless second quarter from the Nuggets saw Phoenix carry a 60-49 lead into halftime.

Paul toyed with Denver’s defenders and orchestrated their offense flawlessly. He knew Denver’s defense was reeling.

“I’ve coached Chris,” Malone said, referencing his time as an assistant in New Orleans. “I know the student of the game that he is, the competitor that he is. Adding Chris Paul, another play-making, ball-handling, drive-and-kick wizard … Jae Crowder, his ability to space the floor … They’re a good team.”

Murray’s sizzling start cooled substantially entering halftime after a brilliant first quarter. He had 14 points in the first quarter, while hunting his shot and playing his aggressive brand of basketball. Jokic, always content to rack up assists over points, had eight helpers and seven rebounds in the first half.

Source: Read Full Article