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Jamal Murray, Nuggets hold off furious Suns rally to win 122-118

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It was Jamal’s night tonight.

NBA: Denver Nuggets at Phoenix Suns Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

The Denver Nuggets won on the road on the second night of a back-to-back against the Phoenix Suns 123-118, and Jamal Murray was absolutely unconscious. He led Denver with 46 points on 16/24 from the field and 9/11 from beyond the arc. Nikola Jokic also performed well, accumulating 23 points, 9 assists, and 8 rebounds. DeAndre Ayton and Devin Booker had good nights, but the Nuggets prevailed in this one.

Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokic started out this game in top form. Two kick outs from Jokic in the post and a backdoor pass led to eight quick Murray points, and Jamal returned the favor to Jokic in the pick and roll. Denver tried to work the mismatch in the post that Mason Plumlee had against T.J. Warren, but to little success. Instead, Denver was at its best with Jokic making the decisions at the high post and top of the key. Murray played extremely well off of him, and Torrey Craig got in on the action in transition. Murray had 13 of Denver’s first 25 points, creating offense in transition, making the right passes, and hitting his catch-and-shoot threes. A welcome sight for Denver. The defense Craig played on Devin Booker was excellent, while Mason Plumlee defended T.J. Warren extremely well. Malik Beasley, dealing with an ankle injury, came in and hit two threes off the bench. This was Denver’s best quarter in a while, and they led the Suns 36-16.

Beasley remained extremely hot to start the second quarter, hitting another two three-pointers and setting up Paul Millsap in transition (welcome back Paul!) to put the Nuggets up 24 early in the second quarter. Denver continued to roll, but so did DeAndre Ayton, who accumulated all 12 of Phoenix’s points to start the quarter. Plumlee struggled to make plays in this one, accumulating turnovers in bunches. Still, he grabbed an offensive rebound to kick out to Beasley for another three. Unfortunately, the Nuggets could not defend DeAndre Ayton this quarter in the slightest. 24 points in the quarter kept the Suns close and cut the margin to just 12, 59-47 Nuggets at halftime.

The Nuggets came out hot once again in the second quarter, scoring 20 points in under six minutes. Murray remained hot, and the rest of the Nuggets fed off his scoring energy. On the other end, Denver did better on DeAndre Ayton while forcing the other three Suns (minus Devin Booker) to beat them. The Nuggets eventually got a bit lazy defensively though, with Jokic giving up some some offensive rebounds to Phoenix for second chance points. Denver maintained their lead 90-78.

Murray began the fourth quarter with a wide open transition three-pointer and an up-and-under to push his point total to 36. He just kept pushing the Suns hard, and hit even more tough shots to go over 40. The Suns kept battling hard, led by Booker and Ayton, but Murray had other plans.

The Suns got really hot at the end, and they made things interesting by hitting some tough three-pointers. But between Jokic and Murray at the end, the Nuggets scored enough points to maintain their lead. Final score 122-118.

What the Stiffs said to watch:

Controlling the Pace

The Suns had 28 fast break points in this one, but Denver was able to play solid half court defense when the game wasn’t in transition. Denver only had 10 fast break points themselves, and the majority of their point production came on excellent sets and exploiting mismatches. A strong performance by Denver’s offense and imposing their will on the game.

Stylistic Clash

Nikola Jokic had a solid game, but Mason Plumlee did not. He struggled battling T.J. Warren in the post, and Denver was better when they went smaller with Hernangomez at the 4. The Suns weren’t really able to take advantage though because whoever switched onto Murray defensively got cooked.

Nikola Jokic vs DeAndre Ayton

Ayton was a monster in this one when matched up with anyone other than Jokic. He had a couple of offensive rebounds and put backs over the Joker, but most of his damage came against Mason Plumlee. The young rookie put up 33 points and 14 rebounds on 16/20 from the field, a masterful offensive performance. Jokic was solid as well though, putting up 23 points, 9 assists, and 8 rebounds himself.

Final thought: Murray en fuego

It’s awesome enough to score 31 points on one night, but to score 46 points on the very next night is extremely impressive. I’ve been vocal about Murray’s efficiency struggles this year, and they have been warranted. Before tonight, Murray’s three-point percentage was lower than noted poor shooter Markelle Fultz. Tonight though, Murray started to let it fly, and he connected on a high number of shots from all over the floor. Most notable though were the three-pointers, as Murray hit 9/11 on the night. Hopefully, this can be the start of a hot stretch for the Blue Arrow. The Nuggets need him badly if they want to advance in the playoffs laster on.