DENVER, CO - JANUARY 19: Gary Harris #14 of the Denver Nuggets shoots the ball against the Phoenix Suns on January 19, 2018 at the Pepsi Center in Denver, Colorado.
Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images

Nuggets Can't Slow Booker, Warren, Fall to Suns

by Christopher Dempsey
Nuggets Insider
@chrisadempsey

NBA waters are shark-infested. The last thing a team wants to do is give bait to the predators. The Nuggets tried to bail themselves out with a late-game push, but the Phoenix Suns held them off to take a 108-100 win on Friday night at the Pepsi Center.

The loss dropped the Nuggets to .500 (23-23) for the first time since they were 5-5 on Nov. 4.

“We had some guys tonight that just went into the game and was playing like it was a game in the park that didn’t mean anything – kind of going through the motions at times,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. “Not everybody. I thought we had some guys that really competed and played hard. I give our guys credit. They cut that halftime lead to three, they start that third with great effort. … I love what Darrell Arthur said to his team at halftime. He said to his team ‘How many times do we have to come in here at halftime and talk about playing hard?’ That’s a great question. How many times do we have to go in here and talk about effort?”

So much of what happened was the reverse of what occurred on Jan. 3, when the Nuggets blew out the Suns 134-111 at home. In that game, the Nuggets racked up 68 points in the paint powered by relentless driving to rim, finding holes in the Suns defense all night long. On Friday night, those driving lanes dried up.

The Suns were solid in keeping the Nuggets out of the lane. And when the Nuggets were able to get to the rim, they found a ton of resistance, led by 7-foot shot-blocker Tyson Chandler and other players with size like 7-foot forward Dragan Bender. The Nuggets were reduced to 36 points in the paint as a result.

Also in the first meeting, the Nuggets were wildly successful at limiting the scoring punch from Phoenix’s leading scorers, Devin Booker and T.J. Warren. But on Friday, those two shook loose to score 55 points on 22-of-40 shooting. Booker had 30 himself, make four 3-pointers in the process.

And then there was the Suns bench. They outscored Nuggets reserves 44-23 and were led by Isaiah Canaan, who caught fire from the 3-point arc in the first half and finished with 16 points and six assists. Canaan scored 11 of those points in the second quarter alone.

And so it went.

“We didn’t defend,” guard Jamal Murray said. “It was simple. Our offense was fine, we had some bad turnovers, but it was our defense for most of the game and we couldn’t change that.”

The Nuggets, down by 10 at halftime, tried to ramp up the energy in the third, and were successful in the opening moments. Murray threw down two thunderous dunks, lifting the Pepsi Center crowd to its feet. But the momentum didn’t last long. Phoenix settled down and kept control. The Nuggets made another run in the fourth quarter, getting the lead down to four, but the Suns held them off.

The Nuggets were led by Murray’s 30 points. He made five 3-pointers. Gary Harris added 16 points. Nikola Jokić had 14 points and 17 rebounds.

But the Nuggets are now 2-6 in their last eight games, Malone noted.

“As a coach, that’s the hardest thing, because I can’t coach effort. I can’t make you play hard,” Malone said. “I can’t draw it up on a board. That is something that you have to bring to the table as a professional athlete every night. We didn’t have that collectively tonight. Some guys did. But, as I asked them as individuals: When you go to bed tonight and you put your head on that pillow, ask yourself if you gave everything you had. And if you didn’t, shame on you.”

Christopher Dempsey: christopher.dempsey@altitude.tv and @chrisadempsey on Twitter.