The Nuggets looked unstoppable in the first half, miserable in the second half.
The Nuggets started out fairly strong keeping pace with the Suns and taking an 18-17 lead with 2:39 to go in the quarter, before ending the first quarter on a 14-0 run. The Nuggets finished the quarter up 29-17 behind impressive defensive stops leading to exciting transition baskets the other way. Danilo Gallinari lead the way in the opening quarter, scoring eight points and adding five rebounds in the first frame alone.
The second quarter picked up right where the first left off, as the bench unit continued to have the ball popping on offense before finding the open shot. Will Barton added a handful of exciting plays and his energy was as incredible as always. Everything was going well for the Nuggets in the second quarter. Emmanuel Mudiay had a few very impressive assists in transition and a very impressive finish through contact in the paint. The quarter was fast paced and played perfectly into Denver's hands, allowing Denver to take a 49-63 lead going into the half.
The Nuggets pushed the lead to 17 to start the second half and led 68-51. But then it all began to unravel. Brandon Knight got white hot from behind the arc and the Nuggets defense struggled to contain him around the perimeter. In the rare instances that Knight missed a shot, the Suns grabbed or challenged for the offensive rebound. With the Nuggets unable to get stops or grab rebounds, they were unable to get out in transition and run. The Suns took an 89-88 lead with 8:22 left in the quarter and it was all downhill from there. Knight finished the game with a career high, 38 points, 11 rebounds, and 6 assists as the Suns beat the Nuggets 114-107.
|NUGGETS BIG 3||PTS||REBS||AST||TO||FGA||FGM||MIN|
|SUNS BIG 3||PTS||REBS||AST||TO||FGA||FGM||MIN|
Key to the game: "You don't want to get in a horse contest with a team that is full of horses." - Scott Hastings
Sure, that sentence doesn't make any sense, but the point is clear nonetheless. The Suns are one of the best 3-point shooting teams in the NBA and have a dynamic backcourt duo of Knight and Eric Bledsoe and plenty of shooters sprinkled around the roster at all positions. The Nuggets found themselves in a shooting contest against a team that would love for every game to become a shooting contest. To make matters worse, the Nuggets guards routinely went under Knight on screens, including on the dagger three-pointer in the final seconds of the game. The Suns finished shooting 55.8% from three on 27 attempts while the Nuggets finished shooting 20.8% from three on 24 attempts.
Takeaway: The Nuggets just aren't good in the half court offense
The Nuggets are a young team with injuries to some key players and quite frankly, they don't have the talent to get away with sloppy defense, turnovers, fouls, and poor rebounding. In the first half, the Nuggets' defense created scoring opportunities. In the second half, the team got lazy, lethargic, sloppy, and lost every hustle category. They got pounded on the boards, they left guys wide open on the perimeter, allowed wide open layups, and wasted possessions on offense. Simply put, they got outworked, and the Nuggets aren't good enough to get out worked.
The half court offense is especially doomed when the Nuggets allow the defense to get set. They lack enough above-average playmakers to be a consistent and effective half court team and if they aren't able to get stops on the defensive end, it is almost impossible for them to get points going the other way against a set defense. The Nuggets let this game slip through their fingers and they'll get no mercy in the upcoming games against the Warriors, Clippers, and Spurs. Nonetheless, it's early in a rebuilding season and there is a great opportunity for this game to be a learning experience for the team going forward.
Malone is furious
Head coach Michael Malone was not pleased after the game. He threw several barbs toward his team in his post-game press conference, calling them out for their poor effort and focus. "We have some guys on this team that pick and choose when they play hard, and those guys aren't going to play." You can listen to the entire press conference below.
The Nuggets are back in action on Sunday when the Warriors come to town looking to set an NBA record with 15 straight wins to open the season.