Denver Nuggets 103, Phoenix Suns 106: Three takeaways
The Denver Nuggets came back from 16 down but it wasn’t enough to start 2021 with a win, dropping a 106-103 heartbreaker to the Phoenix Suns.
Jamal Murray returned from his one-game absence and responded with a dominant showing, putting up 31 points on 12-of-22 shooting to go along with five dimes and four boards. Nikola Jokić was one board away from another triple-double, fighting off foul trouble to finish with 17 points, 11 assists and nine rebounds. The Suns were paced by Chris Paul, who had 21 points, six assists and five boards on 50 percent shooting. Deandre Ayton also stood out with 22 points, 11 boards and two blocks on 10-of-13 shooting.
“We are only five games in. We are not playing bad, it’s just little details," Murray said. "We just have to move to the next game...All I can do is stay confident and move on to the next one."
Michael Malone’s team will now aim to regroup in Minneapolis when it takes on the Timberwolves Sunday (5 p.m. MT, ALTITUDE).
Here are the takeaways:
The Nuggets have yet to play a consistent 48-minute game, with a single quarter usually sealing their fate. In Friday’s contest, it was the second quarter that proved difficult to overcome.
After exiting the first quarter trailing by two, things fell the rails in the next 12 minutes. The team shot 54.5 percent in the opening quarter of the game; it would shoot 28.6 percent from the floor in the second quarter. That includes just 12.5 percent from downtown. Denver would be held to 17 points during that span.
The Nuggets would valiantly fight back in the fourth quarter, rallying from 16 down to take a 98-97 lead off Monte Morris’ three at 2:41 mark. But unfortunately, the team wasn’t able to overturn a slow start.
"Being 1-4 sucks. That’s where my head is at. I thought our guys played really hard tonight. We did a lot of good things and gave ourselves a chance, but this is not year one or year two where that is acceptable. We lost another game; we lost another game at home and we have to be better. We have to get off to a better start," Malone said.
"I don’t know if we have yet to put together a full 48-minute effort and that is the frustrating thing. We have shown in stretches, how good we can be, but just not for a 48-minute period."
The Nuggets’ defense has been under the microscope since the opening game and with just reason. This is a team that entered Friday’s contest with a 116.7 defensive rating (29th in the NBA) and 120.3 points per game (25th). Still, the issues aren’t limited to that end of the floor.
The Nuggets entered the game with the fourth-best offensive rating in the NBA at 113.8, but this is a group that at times appears to be out of synch on that end. Prior to the game, Denver was ranked 16th in turnovers, giving up 16 per game. It is also ranked 18th in turnover percentage at 15.5 percent. Teams are capitalizing on those giveaways to a dramatic effect as the Nuggets entered their matchup against the Suns ranked 27th in opponent points off turnovers (21.3). Finally, as of Friday afternoon, the team was 17th in three-point percentage (35.3) and 22nd in three-pointers made per game (11.0).
Denver might remain incredibly efficient in its scoring as it is ranked sixth in true shooting percentage at 59.5. But the group is making things significantly more difficult than it needs to be overall due to carelessness and struggles from downtown.
The Nuggets had 11 turnovers Friday, which the Suns converted for 24 points.
JaMychal Green makes debut
After suffering an injury in Denver’s second quarter, JaMychal Green finally made his Nuggets debut in the team’s fifth game of the season.
The former Clippers reserve came as advertised, hitting two shots from deep and finishing with eight points on 3 of 3 shooting to go along with four boards in just 12 minutes of action. What might have been equally as impressive was Green’s versatility. The 6-foot-8 forward spelled Nikola Jokić and Paul Millsap and provided some gritty play on both ends.
"It was great to have him...He is strong and physical; he played good post defense a few times," Malone said. "Obviously, he is not in game shape yet. He has been out for a little bit, nursing that calf-strain. Overall, I thought it was great having him back. It is a small sample size, but that is kind of what we envisioned with JaMychal Green; the rebounding, the ability to stretch the floor, and providing toughness. I think he did all of those things tonight.”
Green’s performance along with a strong overall showing in the final eight minutes of the game are two positives Malone and his staff can build on heading into Sunday’s matchup against Minnesota.
"I was just happy to be back out there with my teammates and just being on the floor," Green said. "I was tired of sitting on the sideline. Just happy to be back out there.”
"We still have some chemistry that we have to gain as a team. We have to gel. It was a quick offseason. It was a quick training camp. We really haven’t had much time to play together. We really are learning along the way. 1-4 right now, but it’s nothing to panic about. We’ll turn it around.”