Denver Nuggets 105, Phoenix Suns 122: Three takeaways

by Alex Labidou Staff Writer

The Nuggets played some of their best basketball of the season in the first half, but it all came unraveling in the second half as they suffered a heavy 122-105 defeat against the Suns in Phoenix.

Denver used a strong defensive performance in the opening 24 minutes to lead by as many as seven. The visitors held the Suns to just 33 percent from three in the first two quarters. Unfortunately, the Nuggets were unable to sustain that effort in the final 24 minutes. The Suns would explode for 65 points on 64.1 percent shooting.

Nikola Jokić led the Nuggets with 22 points, nine rebounds, three assists, three blocks, and two steals. Chris Paul paced the Suns with 21 points, 11 dimes while Devin Booker also had 21 on 8 of 12 shooting.

Denver will now look to get back to its best Wednesday in Game 2 of the semifinals (7:30 p.m. MT, TNT, KKSE 92.5FM). 

Here the takeaways:

Third quarter nightmare

The Nuggets’ early season struggles in coming out of the break with urgency reemerged in the third quarter of Game 1.

Denver couldn’t get anything going offensively, generating just four assists and shooting 30.4 percent. The team put up just 21 points in that span. On the other end, it was arguably worse.

Phoenix was finding easy bucket after easy bucket, hitting 57.1 percent from three and 57.9 percent overall from the field. The Nuggets had no answer for Mikal Bridges, who put up 13 points on 5 of 5 shooting in that stretch. The Suns would close out the third quarter on a 28-9 run that extended into the fourth quarter. It was the deciding stretch of the game.

In Game 2, Denver will need to be the aggressors heading out of the break if it wants to steal homecourt advantage from this series.


Transition defense and lack of physicality prove costly

The Nuggets had 12 turnovers, but they were punished on almost every giveaway as Phoenix used its defense to fuel its break. The Suns scored 18 points on the Nuggets’ turnovers and 13 fast break points. Denver can ill-afford to give away points against a Phoenix that ranked sixth in the regular season in defensive rating (110.4) and first in the playoffs in that category (102.6).

The Suns had eight steals and had a slight edge on the boards with a 44-41 lead. The team also went to the foul line 20 times. The Nuggets went to the charity stripe just six times.


AG, Facu shine

As poor as the second half was for Denver, there were some positives Michael Malone can build on. Two players who stood out aside from the usual MVP-level play of Jokić were Aaron Gordon and Facundo Campazzo.

For a team that struggled with the Suns’ physical style of play, Gordon was a bright spot. The forward showcased why the Nuggets made a big play for him at the trade deadline and finished with 18 points, four rebounds and three steals.

Campazzo also had a solid first half for Denver, with the Argentine rookie posting 11 points, four rebounds and two assists. He would finish the game with 14 points, six dimes and four boards while shooting 5 of 9.


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