Denver Nuggets 97, Phoenix Suns 126: Three Takeaways

by Eric Spyropoulos
Staff Writer
@EricSpyroNBA

The Denver Nuggets were already up against it heading into a Sunday night showdown with the Phoenix Suns without Nikola Jokić suiting up for the contest. Unfortunately for Denver, Phoenix came out of the gates firing and comfortably secured a 126-97 victory, which extended the Nuggets’ losing streak to four games.

Denver kept it close during the first portion of the initial quarter, as a balanced scoring attack kept the Nuggets within five points at the first timeout. However, lights out shooting (77.3 percent in the quarter) fueled Phoenix’s offense, as the Suns built the lead up to 10 points with four minutes remaining in the quarter. Jae Crowder led the way with 11 points in the frame as Phoenix took a 48-28 advantage into the second quarter. Aaron Gordon dropped nine points in the quarter for Denver.

The Nuggets slightly reduced the deficit during the opening minutes of the second quarter and saw themselves down 64-48 with just under five minutes remaining in the half. Jeff Green chipped in with a couple buckets in the quarter and finished with 13 in the first half. Although Phoenix cooled off a bit on the offensive end, the Suns maintained a double-digit lead of 73-60 at the halftime break.

In what was once a 21-point game, the Nuggets got themselves within nine points midway through the third quarter. Denver’s defense tightened up to begin the second half and the Nuggets hit some timely 3-pointers to push the comeback attempt forward. However, Phoenix responded and finished the quarter on a 17-4 run, which ultimately pushed the lead back up to 100-78 by the end of the frame.

As the Nuggets went deeper into the bench to begin the fourth quarter, Phoenix extended the lead to 116-87 with six minutes remaining. Cameron Johnson scored 11 points in the opening six minutes of the quarter as Phoenix continued to thrive on both ends of the floor.

Here are three takeaways from Sunday’s loss.

Early hot shooting fuels Suns offense

When you score 48 points in a quarter and 73 points in one half, it’s safe to say your offense is operating at a high level.

Phoenix got plenty of quality looks throughout the first half as Denver’s defense was constantly in scramble mode. The Suns hit 8-of-19 from beyond the arc in the first half and added 28 points in the paint (along with 13 points from the charity stripe).

Although Phoenix cooled off slightly in the second half, the ball was moving and enough shots fell to consistently maintain a significant, double-digit lead throughout the contest. The Suns finished with 33 assists to 13 turnovers on the night.

Jeff Green steps up for Denver

In the second consecutive game without the reigning MVP, the Nuggets’ starters made the most of the opportunity Sunday night, with all five starters finishing in double-figures.

However, it was Jeff Green that led the way for the Nuggets, as the veteran forward dropped a season-high 19 points Sunday night. Green did most of his damage inside the arc (he finished a perfect 5-of-5 on two-point attempts) and from the charity stripe (6-of-8).

Phoenix wins battle of the benches

Any matchup against the Suns will test a team’s second unit. Phoenix’s second unit ranks seventh in the league this season at 37.1 points per game, and a familiar story played out Sunday night in the desert.

Denver’s second unit was hurt by the early departure for Bones Hyland, who suffered a sprained ankle in the first quarter. As a result, the Nuggets’ bench group lacked a scoring punch, and Phoenix’s second unit took advantage.

In the end, the Suns outscored the Nuggets 56-28 in bench points, which only dug a deeper hole for the shorthanded Mile High squad.

Denver returns to action Tuesday night against the Portland Trail Blazers (8 p.m. MT).

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