The Denver Nuggets wrapped up a home and home with the Phoenix Suns tonight. Denver was at a disadvantage without the services of Nikola Jokic but they would get a huge (and crazy efficient) game from Danilo Gallinari which would guide them to the win. The Nuggets also got solid contributions from Jamal Murray and Kenneth Faried and a game that looked to be going the wrong way early ended up becoming a contest that was all Denver in the second half. Despite missing their best player, the Nuggets earn the win on the road.
Phoenix found success early on the offensive end but Denver also was converting from behind the three point line. This actually was a bit of a bad thing as the Nuggets seemed to be content to settle for long range jumpers to start the game, luckily though the Suns cooled off as well and the start of the first quarter turned into an ugly affair. The Suns would start to get their game going but the Nuggets continued to be sloppy, turning the ball over and allowing Phoenix to get to the basket with ease which led to a double digit Suns lead. Coach Malone called a timeout at the four minutes mark to try and stop the bleeding but the Nuggets continued to get killed in the paint and got almost no contributions on offense from anyone other than Gallinari. They trailed by twelve after one quarter.
The second quarter started no better than the first. The Nuggets continued to settle for jumpers and turn the ball over but once again a cold spell for the Suns kept them from increasing their lead. Murray injected some life into Denver while Faried and Alex Len started getting chippy with each other and that provided even more energy for the team. However, Eric Bledsoe was keeping the Suns ahead almost single handedly. Murray’s strong play continued as he led the Nuggets on a run to get the game tied at 44 all. Devin Booker helped keep Phoenix in front but on the Nuggets side once Murray went out Gallo caught fire. Overall the Nuggets won the quarter in a big way and trailed by just two points at the end of the half.
The second half started off slow but on the bright side the Nuggets were able to get Booker into foul trouble early. Denver’s defense was playing well behind Jusuf Nurkic’s rim protection but their offense had stagnated and the game remained tied in the early going of the second half. Before the quarter had passed the eight minute mark Denver had drawn enough fouls to be in the bonus and that would help them to earn and hold a lead for the first time in the game behind a 18-2 run. By the time the Suns finally got on the scoreboard again the Nuggets lead had got as large as eleven. The fouls just kept coming from the Suns and the Nuggets free throws was the story of the quarter. When they weren’t fouling the Suns were missing their shots (and Faried was gobbling up the rebounds) which led to the Nuggets lead getting as large as nineteen. The Suns would finally get on a mini run right at the end of the quarter though and the third ended with the Nuggets leading by just twelve.
The Nuggets opened the quarter sloppily, this time being the main perpetrator of fouls and also turning the ball over again. However, like was the case most of the night, the Suns missed easy shots which kept them from being able to close in on Denver’s lead. Denver’s defense tightened up, though Bledsoe continued to give them problems, but they weren’t getting the easy points on offense anymore and the Suns kept chipping away at the lead. In the Nuggets favor Phoenix just couldn’t stop fouling and once again the Nuggets were into the bonus early in the quarter. Nonetheless Bledsoe kept scoring and as the final quarter passed the halfway point the Nuggets lead had dwindled to seven. Denver stopped the bleeding and started playing some defense, including a big block from Faried, while also getting some key shots from Murray down the stretch to keep Phoenix at bay. In the end the fouls and the Nuggets were too much for Phoenix and Denver would earn the 123-112 win.
Best match up: Eric Bledsoe vs Jamal Murray
A pair of Kentucky wildcats provided a large bulk of the entertainment tonight. Though Bledsoe started, he still found himself going at Murray plenty and it looked as though each player took it personally. Bledose had a huge night offensively, scoring forty-one points, and often times when Phoenix was struggling he would be the only player providing offense for them. He was a key catalyst to keeping Phoenix in the game as long as they were. Murray meanwhile was the key to the comeback in the second quarter and once again showed he has the capability to be an effective point guard. Don’t get me wrong, he struggled with turnovers, particularly in the start of the fourth quarter, but he also hit some big shots down the stretch to keep the Suns from getting too close and flashed that offensive game that makes him such a tantalizing prospect.
Main thing I noticed: Holy fouls Batman!
In the third quarter alone the Suns committed thirteen fouls which resulted in nineteen free throws for the Nuggets and they converted eighteen of them. When Denver got into the bonus with more than eight minutes remaining in that quarter you had the feeling they’d have a chance to capture the lead and that’s exactly what they did. Into the fourth quarter the Suns were still committing a lot of silly fouls and Denver continued to convert. Probably not going to see too many games break that heavily in Denver’s favor when it comes to calls but good on them for cashing in on the opportunity.
Closing thought: Murray and Gallo have to step up with Jokic out
Murray and Gallo are the two best options to provide offense and playmaking for the Nuggets while Jokic is out. Tonight they were able to provide that for Denver and it’s going to be paramount moving forward. Jameer Nelson is a capable point guard but the first quarter was evidence of how the team struggles when they are looking to him to be the main playmaker. It’s going to be crucial that Gallo and Jamal play well while Nikola is out. It’s probably unfair to expect Gallo to perform as well as he did tonight every game, and we know Jamal can be streaky but if the team is going to weather the storm without Jokic it’ll be those two guys who lead the way.