The Denver Nuggets defeated the Phoenix Suns 116-98 Thursday night at the Pepsi Center, with Emmanuel Mudiay setting a new career-high with 30 points to help his team pick up their third straight win.
Devin Booker was the leading scorer in the game, dropping 35 points for the Suns, including a stretch in the third quarter where he scored 14 of the team's 17 points, but it wasn't enough as the 2015 draft class continued to shine this season.
Nikola Jokic had a quiet double-double, filling up the stat sheet with 18 points on 6 of 8 field goals, 10 rebounds, four assists, three blocks, two steals, and one slam dunk, his ninth of the season. Mudiay's 30 points came on an efficient 13 of 20 shooting performance, and his jumper was working with four 3-pointers too.
Nuggets and Suns started the game off sloppy, with a lot of missed shots and turnovers. After six minutes the Nuggets had a two-point lead, but the two teams combined for 16 points. Emmanuel Mudiay found success with his 3-point shot, making 3 of 3 in the quarter on his way to a career-high in a quarter with 11 points.
Brandon Knight returned to game action for the Suns, but looked rusty in the game, a byproduct of missing so many games. The Nuggets defense was on point, and the Suns shot 15 percent in the first quarter.
The Nuggets second unit came in and gave up the lead, with Jeff Leuer doing damage for the Suns. Darrell Arthur and Will Barton started going to work, with Arthur dropping in some jumpers while the Thrill had a few electrifying jams. One drive, Barton got whacked in the head, but didn't get the whistle but still managed to two-hand jam home the dunk.
Jusuf Nurkic checked in for the first time in eight games, and was active in his four minutes. Juka finished the first half with 2 points, 3 boards, 2 steals, a block and a classic Nurk offensive foul. When Nurkic drove from the right block and flipped in his shot attempt, all his teammates stood up on the bench and cheered for him - it was a nice show of support for a guy that's had a frustrating season.
The Nuggets took a 14 point lead into the locker room at halftime, thanks to their defense, limiting the Suns to 41 points and 28 percent shooting. The Suns did have success on the offensive glass, with 11 in the half, and that helped them get more opportunities to score, which was frustrating.
The third quarter was a trademark "hey let's look like we've never played basketball before" quarter for the Nuggets, who gave up a lead as the Suns battled to take a 70-69 lead after a Mirza Teletovic 3-pointer. Malone was pissed, called timeout, and Axel Toupane was tasked with playing defense on Booker. His energy helped keep Booker out of the paint, and after the youngster had scored 14 of the Suns 17 points, Toupane helped limit him the remainder of the quarter. He helped change the game, and the Nuggets responded to the defensive stops.
Booker continued to do damage on offense in the fourth, repeatedly working his way into the paint for layups or knocking down 3-pointers. Jokic and Mudiay had a series of baskets, and the Nuggets led 98-89 with five minutes left after a Harris backcut for a score off a pass from Jokic.
The Nuggets foundation was stellar as the team closed out the game. Whether it was Mudiay playing tight defense and driving to the rim or Jokic dropping dimes and scoring in the post, they had an opportunity to show that they could close out an opponent and they did so in fine fashion.
Mudiay reached a new career-high with a reverse lay-up, and finished the game with 30 points. Jokic even showed that he can dunk, with Mudiay breaking down the defense and dropping the ball off to his teammate for a two-handed baseline jam (video courtesy of An Nguyen) .
The Nuggets have to win a few more games to beat the 538 projection of 30-52, but only needing two more wins this season, odds are the Nuggets should beat that. Take that computer projections (blows raspberry).
Devin Booker is legit skilled. A lot of Nuggets fans were hoping that the Nuggets could figure out a way to get the Kentucky freshman in the draft, and tonight, he showed why. I love Gary Harris, but Booker is a better player than he is. That's not an insult to Harris, just a recognition of talent for Booker. He's on a bad team right now, and he's getting more opportunities than most of his peers, but he was unstoppable at times tonight. His jumper is only going to improve, and that's bad news for the rest of the league. I'd take him over Bradley Beal every day of the week and twice on Sunday.
Mudiay's points seemed so effortless. It was weird how relaxed Mudiay looked tonight. He just turned 20 years old, but he was calm and composed throughout the game. Not once did I write down in my notes "Mudiay shouldn't have taken that shot" although I'm sure I missed one or two. He was aggressive, looking to score more than normal, and wasn't afraid of size in the paint in the form of Tyson Chandler and Alex Len. The Suns defense is, how you say, not good, but regardless, that's how I'd describe Mudiay's jump shot at times this season. If he can score like that consistently to close out the season, the Nuggets have to be feeling pretty good about their future. I know I'm excited.
Payback is what? The Nuggets are competitive, patterned after their head coach. I'm sure Malone enjoyed picking up a win over a team that had the Nuggets number earlier this season.