Denver Nuggets 107, Phoenix Suns 102: Three takeaways

by Alex Labidou
Nuggets.com Staff Writer
@LabidouA

Three preseason games, three wins. The Nuggets continued their perfect start to the preseason thanks to an unrelenting approach on defense, containing the Suns in a 107-102 win at Talking Stick Resort Arena Monday. 
 
 Newcomer Jerami Grant led the Nuggets with another strong preseason performance, dropping 22 points and adding three steals. Denver’s win was also sparked by its backcourt of Jamal Murray and Gary Harris, who combined for 34 points and Frank Kaminsky led Phoenix with 22 points and six boards. 
 
 The Nuggets seized control of the game early as they went on a 17-6 run midway through the first quarter. The team would lead by as many as 17 points in the second and third quarters. The Suns rallied in the fourth. With most of the key rotation players out in the fourth, Phoenix trimmed a 12-point deficit to just one in the final minute. Nuggets guard PJ Dozier, however, would ice the game with two clutch free throws. 

Denver held the Suns to 40 percent shooting from the field, including just 28.6 percent from downtown. Denver also outrebounded its opponent 43 to 36. The game was also notable for head coach Michael Malone using his first-ever coaches challenge. 

"I'm 1-0. Whoop de doo," Malone joked after the game.

The Nuggets will conclude their preseason with a home matchup against the Trail Blazers Thursday. 

 
Here are three takeaways from the game:

Grant dominates 

With Paul Millsap being rested, Grant got his first start of the preseason and put on a mesmerizing performance. The Nuggets’ prized offseason acquisition poured in 22 points and three steals on sizzling 6-of-8 shooting. 

Grant had limited offensive opportunities during his time with the Thunder as the team relied on a ball-dominant approach with Russell Westbrook and Paul George having the lion’s share of touches. In Denver’s open offense, Grant is able to handle the ball more and show that he’s more than just a stretch four with range. He can dribble and drive to the basket and as a result, he was able to get to the line eight times (hitting all eight attempts). 

"I thought he was phenomenal on both end of the floor," Malone said. "Shooting the ball, finishing and guarding, it has been seamless [Grant's adjustment with the Nuggets]."

Grant helped the Nuggets get off to a strong start as he went 3 of 4 with two buckets from downtown. When Phoenix tried to rally after the half, the 25-year-old responded with another solid quarter in the third, hitting another two three-pointers and going 3 of 4. 

Grant also made an impact on the defensive end, evidenced by his takeaways in the game.

Backcourt on fire

After an inconsistent start to the preseason, Jamal Murray and Gary Harris came alive Monday night, showcasing why they are one of the NBA’s elite guard tandems. 

Murray was impressive on both ends of the court and nearly finished with a triple-double, going for 16 points, eight rebounds and six assists. Entering Monday’s contest, Murray hadn’t hit a three and attempted just two shots from long range. Against the Suns, he was back to his best, hitting two pullup triples en route to an eight-point second quarter. Murray was also tasked with guarding both Ricky Rubio and Devin Booker at times and held his own. The Nuggets limited the Suns’ star backcourt to a combined 5-of-14 shooting. 

Harris came into the contest averaging 4.5 points in the first two preseason games, but eclipsed that mark in the first quarter, pouring in 11 points on 4-of-7 shooting. The shooting guard would finish the game with 18 points, excelling both in converting layups and hitting shots from downtown. Harris also had a significant role in containing Phoenix’s guards. 

"I loved, from the first play of the game, Gary's attack mindset," Malone said. "I thought in the Clippers game, he came off being tentative as opposed to being aggressive...Gary set the tone early, Jamal [had a good game], our starting backcourt is one of the better backcourts in the entire NBA. When they are in that attack mode, we become a team that's really hard to guard." 

MPJ makes his case

The Nuggets’ small forward competition has been well-documented as the team has four talented players competing for a chance to join the starting unit. Based on Michael Porter Jr.’s play in the preseason, he definitely warrants serious consideration. 

Porter Jr. had another well-rounded performance in the Nuggets’ win, going for 11 points, five rebounds, two blocks and a steal. The rookie forward’s ability to score is well-known, but it’s his effort on defense that has been a big surprise. In his preseason debut, he appeared to be getting up to speed with the Nuggets’ defensive concepts. In his third game, he looked comfortable and confident on that side of the floor, using his length at 6-foot-11  to create real problems for the Suns. 

"It was good to be out there with some of the starters and second string guys today and it was good to get the win," Porter Jr. told Altitude's Katy Winge after the game. "I think I fit in pretty good." 

Michael Malone has stressed that Porter Jr.’s playing time will be determined by his effort on defense. The 21-year-old hasn’t disappointed so far. 

"It's the third game that Michael has played, no matter what group he's in or what part of the game he's in, he's shown he belongs out there," Malone said. "Michael has had three great preseason games and its great to see." 

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