Denver Nuggets 116, Phoenix Suns 104: Three takeaways
It’s a familiar script, but why stop if the formula is working.
Despite some struggles on offense early, the Nuggets were able to edge the Phoenix Suns 116-104 thanks to another dominant display by their defense.
“The defense is always the trigger that ignites our break and how we play," Nuggets head coach Michael Malone said after the game.
Paul Millsap continued his impressive start to the 2019-20 campaign, finishing with 23 points and five boards on 50 percent shooting for the Nuggets. Phoenix was led by Cheick Diallo, who had 22 points and six rebounds. Denver’s win streak now extends to five in a row.
The Nuggets got off to a slow start, shooting 38.5 percent in the opening 12 minutes, but took advantage of Phoenix’s five turnovers to finish the quarter tied at 28 apiece. Jamal Murray and Paul Millsap combined for 22 points on 7-of-11 shooting in the first quarter. Phoenix would ride the hot hand of Elie Okobo (eight points) in the second quarter to take a 57-52 lead into the break.
The Nuggets surged on a 15-6 run in the third quarter to regain the lead at 74-72, giving them their first advantage since the 3.8-second mark of the first quarter. The Nuggets’ bench sparked the home team to outscore its opponent by 10 in the final 12 minutes.
“We’re trying to put it together, slowly but surely, hitting our rhythm, trying to protect home court like we’ve been doing these last few years, so we just have to keep it rolling against Washington," Gary Harris said.
Here are three takeaways from the win:
Frontcourt on its grind
Will Barton III started 1-of-6 but his unwavering relentlessness pushed him through to a season-high 22 points. The 28-year-old would shoot 8 of 12 for the remainder of the game, adding eight rebounds and four assists. After Friday’s win against the Celtics, Barton III said regained confidence is powering him through this season. That was clear again on Sunday.
"I just told them [at halftime] I was going to come out with a better effort. In the first half, my energy wasn't there and I wasn't flying around on defense good enough. I told them I was going to bring it in the third quarter." Barton III said.
Malone tabbed Millsap the Nuggets’ best player early on in the season and the 34-year-old’s display against Phoenix showcased why. The veteran was perfect at the line shooting 9-of-9 on free throws.
Bench provides late spark
It was an uneven performance from the second unit as they were outscored 40-25 through the opening three quarters, but Mason Plumlee, Monte Morris and Malik Beasley were pivotal for the Nuggets in the fourth quarter.
With Nikola Jokić (eight points) having a quiet night on offense, Plumlee provided some much-needed scoring around the rim and finished the game with a season-high 14 points and seven rebounds. The veteran reserve shined in the second quarter as he scored six of the bench’s eight points.
Morris proved clutch for Denver as he scored all of his 10 points and dished out three dimes in the final quarter of the game. His three-pointer with 8:14 shifted the momentum towards Denver as the team went on an 8-2 run.
"I have to give a huge shoutout to our bench. In the second half, I thought our bench unit was were great," Malone said. "I thought [Plumlee] was phenomenal from beginning to end. Monte Morris, in that second half, that’s the Monte Morris that we need, aggressive, confident and attacking."
He added, "[With] Malik Beasley, we have so much depth that we can call on guys who haven’t played, another example of a guy who stays ready, comes in the game and helps us get a win. That stretch that the bench unit had until the six-minute mark of the fourth quarter was tremendous and I couldn’t be prouder of that group.”
Beasley played just 49 minutes in the month of November, but he also came up big as he delivered two clutch threes in a four-minute span.
READ MORE: Beasley shines in brief, but clutch cameo
"We always say that we’re better in transition, get some easier threes, some open looks and then stuff at the rim," Plumlee said. "I thought guys like Malik [Beasley], Monte, Jerami [Grant] and everybody really pushed the pace and that helped us out.”
Jamal from three!
Murray usually shoots around 5.3 threes a game, but on Sunday he was more aggressive from downtown. The 22-year-old took 11 attempts, hitting four. His two in the opening quarter was another reason why the Nuggets were able to keep the game close early on despite Phoenix shooting 52.4 percent.
Murray would finish the game with 22 points, seven boards and three assists.