The Will Brothers stepped up in a huge way for the Nuggets on the second night of a back to back, delivering the Nuggets their first road victory since before Christmas with a win over the Suns.
Will Barton had 25 points, 5 rebounds and 5 assists while Wilson Chandler had 26 points, with the two veterans each playing over 40 minutes.
Dragan Bender had a career-high in points, scoring 23 points, while TJ Warren had a game-high 31 points in the defeat.
The Nuggets guards were able to get going early, with Jamal Murray, Gary Harris, and Will Barton all scoring in the first few minutes of the game. Barton finished over Troy Daniels, with the veteran guard giving him a little shove as he flipped in his layup. Those two got into a little scuffle and were both assessed technical fouls on the other end, and the Suns bullied their way to a lead after that. Murray flipped in a three from the top of the arc, and gave the Nuggets the lead back, 14-11.
The Nuggets and Suns clanked their way through the rest of the first quarter, doing their best to miss enough shots to regress to the mean after each team’s started hot. Devin Harris had his first appearance as a Denver Nugget, checking in with about a minute left for Murray. The Nuggets took a 28-23 lead after Will Barton was able to drive for a swaggy reverse layup right before the buzzer.
The Nuggets first possession of the second quarter, with the reserves on the court, resulted in a 24 second violation — yippee! Things got better pretty quickly however, with Darrell Arthur riding home a layup and Devin Harris knocking down a 3-pointer. The Suns responded with a 11-1 run, and the game was tied again. The starters began matriculating back onto the court, something I noticed when Jokic didn’t run back on defense allowing Dragan Bender a clear path for an alley oop.
The Nuggets were comfortable feeding Jokic in the post, and letting the Serbian look to score. Jokic had eight straight points for the Nuggets, demolishing the Suns frontcourt depth. Elfrid Payton was able to attack the rim, exposing Jokic and Murray’s inability to effectively stop ballscreen offenses, although one play had some extra help:
Elfrid Payton just slapped Jamal Murray in the groin on that drive, and the refs called JAMAL for a foul— Dan (@minutemandan) February 11, 2018
Both teams decided to take breathers on defense so they could focus on offense, and they both had a flurry of baskets to close out the half. The Nuggets took a 62-60 lead into the locker room, lead by Jokic’s 14 points. TJ Warren went 8 for 10 from the field for eighteen points, working the midrange and scoring in transition, as he normally does.
The Nuggets came out in the third quarter looking like they needed a nap, letting the Suns run around them for easy points as they took a six-point lead. The Suns had back to back blocks, and seemed poised to take control of the game. Luckily for Denver, Phoenix is not good, and Will Barton was able to carry the Nuggets back into the game courtesy of a 9-0 run. Barton finished with 16 points in the quarter, and somehow the Nuggets had a 94-89 lead after three quarters.
The Nuggets started the fourth quarter on a 5-0 run, but Josh Jackson came roaring back in the game like a lion, clawing out a defensive stop and scoring in transition. Will Barton checked back in the game after having to leave in the third quarter with an ankle twist to block Jackson, triggering a fast break that Devin Harris finished with a layup. Jokic had the next five points in the game, and all of a sudden the Nuggets were up 109-95 with six and a half minutes left.
Jamal Murray checked back in at the seven minute mark, after D. Harris had played about 13 minutes straight. The Suns went on an 8-0 run after they took a timeout, leading Michael Malone to call a timeout of his own. The Nuggets knocked down a 3-pointer on three straight possessions following their timeout, and hit the 120 point plateau with 90 seconds remaining. That would be the ballgame, giving Denver enough points to hold off Phoenix the remainder of the game.
Wilson Chandler had his best game of the season. I really liked how Chandler played tonight. Gone was the indecisive player that has been there so often, and in his place was an aggressive, physical player. Chandler was trucking guys on his way to the rim, and confidently taking corner 3’s. That’s what I expected from him at the beginning of the season when I predicted he’d lead the team in scoring, and it was really nice to see against a young, foolhardy Suns team.
Jokic needs a break. You know how LeBron took a two week vacation to recover? I wish Jokic could have two weeks to go take care of his horse, eat Serbian food, and not touch a basketball. He looked winded at the opening tip, and his defense was horrible all night long. It didn’t help that the gameplan called for him aggressively posting up trip after trip down the court. He was having to work so hard for positioning, and by the fourth quarter, he just gave up on that idea, letting Dragan Bender - who is not a jacked dude - push him out to the 3-point line. If you weigh 260 pounds and you can’t post up any closer than 21 feet away from the rim, you’re either one of the weakest dudes on the planet for your size or you’re exhausted.
Harris looked good. Yeah, I’m talking about Devin this time. He played 22 minutes, tops for all the reserves, and was a game high +17. He had two turnovers, and four fouls, but the team played well when he was out there. I’m expecting him to only look more comfortable as the season progresses, he’s too experienced to not pick things up. He had a few cuts where he looked like he was expecting someone to pass him the ball because he had a step, but the chemistry isn’t there yet for him and his teammates. It was his first day with the team! Let’s give him a shot, I think it’s going to go well.