This recap was going to be so different. After the first half, I was thinking I would get to write about how the Denver Nuggets had rebounded after a tough loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder. The offense had re-emerged; the jump shots were falling and the points in the paint were piling up. The ball was moving, everyone was playing with confidence, and the defense was stringent. The Nuggets were even making their free throws. It was going to be a bit of a statement game after losing to the Phoenix Suns back in November.
It certainly was a statement game, but for all the wrong reasons. The Nuggets blew a 21-point lead and suffered their worst loss of the season, 103-99 to the Suns at the Pepsi Center.
The strangest part was due to how the game began. Lately, the Nuggets have been getting off to slow starts. Tonight, they outscored the Suns 28-20 in the first quarter, the first time in the last 10 games the Nuggets have led after one. Wilson Chandler scored 12 points by himself, and looked to be on his way to at least a 20-point night.
Denver started pouring it on in the second quarter, running the floor against the Suns and converting layup after layup. The lead eventually ballooned all the way to 60-39 before the Suns closed on a quick 9-2 run to cut the lead to 14, 62-48, at halftime. The Nuggets shot 51% in the first half compared to 38% for Phoenix, and out-rebounded the Suns 28-18.
Once the second half began, the Nuggets started off slowly. Still, there were signs of life. Ty Lawson scored seven straight points and after a Randy Foye three-pointer, the Nuggets had the lead back up to 17. However, Gerald Green began launching from deep without mercy. He shot eight three-pointers in the quarter, knocking down four of them. The Nuggets were outscored 24-20 in the third quarter, but still maintained a 10-point lead heading into the fourth.
It disappeared almost immediately. Markief and Marcus Morris started going to work, abusing the Nuggets with and-1 dunks, three-pointers, and general dominance. The Nuggets were on their heels, and nobody stepped up. Goran Dragic outplayed Lawson down the stretch, and the Suns took the lead on a fast-break layup from him, followed instantly by yet another Green three-pointer. The Nuggets managed to keep it close and had a chance to tie it up on a long three-pointer from Foye near the end of the game, but it came up short.
The fact they were even in the position of needing that shot is mind-boggling, to say the least. This was a whole new level of losing for the Nuggets this season, and it was difficult to watch. They seem to have lost their swagger a bit since the game against the Brooklyn Nets. While Denver has won games since then, they have been more of the grind-it-out variety as opposed to the high-scoring affairs that dotted the seven-game winning streak.
Brian Shaw has his work cut out for him to get this team ready to play a rested Los Angeles Clippers squad in L.A. tomorrow. The quick turnaround could be beneficial, because it won't allow the Nuggets (or their fans) to dwell on this loss for too long. If they can steal a win, it will go a long way towards healing the wounds from this game. But in the insanely competitive Western Conference, a blown opportunity like this can come back to haunt a team when it comes time to clinch a playoff spot.
Game Observations -
- After putting up 62 points in the first two quarters, the Nuggets only scored 37 points over the final two frames. The Nuggets shot 51% and had 13 assists in the first half. They shot 29% and had only 5 assists in the second half.
- Markief Morris had 25 points to lead the Suns. He set his career-high with 28 points against the Nuggets the last time these two teams played each other. His brother, Marcus, had 14.
- Chandler ended up with only 15 points after his superb first quarter. The Nuggets really could have used his offense in the second half, but he played tentative and the jump shots stopped falling.
- The Nuggets starters outscored the Suns starters 65-39. Unfortunately, the Nuggets bench, who has bailed them out of several games this year, was outscored 64-34. They really missed Jordan Hamilton, who was serving a one-game suspension for his sort-of punch against the Thunder's Steven Adams.
- Lawson again struggled with his shot, shooting 3-11. He had seven assists, but also five turnovers. Lawson hasn't found his groove after his injury against the Boston Celtics, and how Ty goes is usually how the Nuggets go.
- The Suns hoisted 35 three-pointers against the Nuggets, hitting 12 of them.
- Shaw had pointed words for his team during his post-game interview, taking the blame for the loss but also claiming the Nuggets played like "front-runners." He mentioned there had been some bad habits in practice that trickled into the game, and he also took responsibility for that. Shaw also had a subtle dig at some of the Nuggets who he thinks complain to much to the officials, saying they had said before the season they weren't going to be "criers." It may have been directed at Nate Robinson, who didn't play much in the second half after getting a technical foul in the second quarter for getting in Dragic's face.