The Denver Nuggets were forced to play shorthanded against the Phoenix Suns today but were able to squeeze out a win regardless. They came out of the gates firing thanks to Emmanuel Mudiay and Jusuf Nurkic, who scored the first 11 points for the road team as they got off to a 11-0 start. Mudiay especially came out firing, getting to the lane and drawing contact and even hitting a three. The Suns, meanwhile, started off unable to hit a shot until Eric Bledsoe and Devin Booker put them on the board with jumpshot after jumpshot, scoring all but two of the team's first 14 points. The Suns then made their next 7 shots after missing their first six and were eventually able to get the lead. This quarter was all about the point guards for both teams, as Bledsoe and Mudiay both finished the first 12 minutes with 12 points as the Nuggets lead 29-28.
By the start of the second quarter, every available Nuggets player had already checked in. The second unit came out firing and were able to extend the lead to 16 points after a 15-0 run going back to the last basket of the first quarter. Nikola Jokic was the star of this group at this point in the game and nobody off the Suns' bench was able to make much of an impact. When Wilson Chandler finally got into the action and the Nuggets continued to win the battles of points in the paint and fast-break points, they were able to go into halftime with a 20-point lead, 63-43.
The Nuggets started out slow in the second half with a couple of early turnovers and missed shots. Similar to the first half, a few jumpers from Booker and Bledsoe helped the Suns go on a 12-3 run as the Nuggets' lead was eventually cut to four. This stretch was defined by heatcheck threes from both Booker and Bledsoe and a few big shots from Jameer Nelson, allowing the Nuggets to hold onto their lead. By the end of the third, Nelson had tied his season-high with 21 points and the Suns had made 6-9 three-pointers in the quarter. The score was 86-79 going into the fourth.
It seemed that everytime the Suns got too close for comfort in the fourth, the Nuggets would go on a run of their own or hit a big shot to keep them at distance for a little bit longer. This game was a physical one, with some technicals and almost fights, but the Nuggets did a good job of keeping their composure throughout and not getting too rattled. Chandler was big in the fourth, hitting some deep threes and finishing with 25 points despite the slow start. The Suns cut the lead to four with a minute left, but Alex Len then fouled Jokic to put him on the free-throw line for two points. The Suns had to play the foul game the rest of the way with no success, and the Nuggets walked away with a 120-114 win.
Ke: Nuggets' backcourt vs. Suns' backcourt
The guards were definitely the key factors in this game for both teams. Mudiay was a huge reason why the Nuggets got off to such a great start and Nelson was a big reason why the team was able to hold onto their lead after the Suns made some big runs. Jamal Murray missed a lot of shots he normally would make but had some big plays in the fourth quarter, finishing with 9 points. Earl Watson for the Suns elected not to start the three-guard lineup, instead opting to start P.J. Tucker. Bledsoe and Booker were huge, though, finishing with 65 points and 8 three-pointers. Brandon Knight was inefficient from the field as he often is and was a -21 today. Still, the Suns clearly rely heavily on their guards (mainly Booker and Bledsoe) and their ability to score, and without them the Nuggets would have run away with this game in the first quarter. It was nice to see Mudiay hold his own in his battle in the backcourt and Murray and Nelson contribute as well.
Thing to Watch: Turnovers
Both teams were much better in the turnover department today, as the Nuggets finished with 12 and the Suns only notched 11. However, the Nuggets had 21 assists (6 from Mudiay) to the Suns' 11. This was a big reason why the Nuggets were able to win this game. The ball movement was very good, as the players penetrated into the lane and then either finished inside, passed outside to a shooter or dumped the ball to a big. The Nuggets have proven that when they hold onto the ball, they are fairly good at executing. It's only when they make silly mistakes and do not give themselves a chance that their offense really becomes frustrating. Today, the team was unselfish and did a good job of limiting their turnovers to get the win.
Final Thought: This team is deep
Playing without Juancho Hernangomez, Will Barton, Gary Harris and Danilo Gallinari, the Nuggets were as shorthanded as they've been this season. This is why the depth of the team is so important. Although Malik Beasley, Alonzo Gee and Darrell Arthur didn't have particularly memorable nights (Arthur did contribute 8 points), every player was needed today if only to prevent the more important players from playing too many minutes. The Nuggets' bench outscored the Suns' bench 33-16, and the Suns actually only had two players score off the bench in Knight and Len. It's not hard to get excited about this team when they're able to get a win on the road with so many injuries against a team with a lot of potential. The young players give the team a lot of excitement but the veterans seem to always play a big part in the wins as well. Overall, this was a good win for the blue and yellow.
Boxscore via espn.com