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Recap: Nuggets run over Suns in fourth, win 116-104

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Phoenix Suns v Denver Nuggets Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

The Denver Nuggets were able to shake out off a slump to outscore the Phoenix Suns in the second half and power their way to a win.

Headband Paul Millsap had another big night, leading the Nuggets with 23 points on 12 shots, while Jamal Murray and Will Barton both chipped in 22 points to help spark the team to a come-from-behind win over the injury-depleted Phoenix Suns.

The Suns played the Nuggets tough, but without Ricky Rubio, Aaron Baynes, and having tonight be their fifth game in seven nights, they just ran out of gas in the fourth quarter and couldn’t keep up down the closing stretch.

The Nuggets first basket of the game came on a reverse by Paul Millsap, who snagged a pass from Jokic who was set up at the top of the 3-point line. The game started out with a quick pace, with both teams hustling down the court to get into their sets early. The starters struggled to get the ball in the hoop, missing a couple open shots and struggling to convert offensive rebounds. As a consequence, they found themselves in some mismatches on defense, and the Suns capitalized on those possessions to get to a 14-12 lead.

Denver was able to regroup after the break and go on a little run, with Millsap providing a spark by driving past Booker to get the basket and draw a foul in the process. Murray got a couple baskets, with a nice 3-pointer and an emphatic dunk. Jokic was able to get an assist on a long outlet pass to Michael Porter Jr. at the end of the quarter, but Elie Okobo answered that with a 3-pointer at the buzzer to draw the score to 28-all.

The Nuggets started the second quarter with a play for Porter Jr. to get a shot from the 3-point line, but the rook missed it long. The offense started to go through Mason Plumlee, who was the only player on the court for the Nuggets reserves that was able to get the ball in the hoop. The starters began to check back in around the 7:00 mark, which was great, because the team needed scorers. Murray was able to get two quick buckets, and then Jokic had a sensational pass to Harris who finished with a dunk. The Suns continued to run nice offense, and the Nuggets just kept letting them get to their spots, and the starters couldn’t get out of the hole that the reserves dug the team into. The Nuggets finished the quarter down 52-57, with another situation where the starters are going to have to bail out the bench.

The third quarter started with a basket from Will Barton, a phrase that would be repeated often throughout the next quarter. Millsap continued to cook too, hitting a fadeaway jumper over Devin Booker at one point on the right block. Jerami Grant had his first block of the game shortly after checking in, and was able to give the team the lead with a layup a few minutes later in transition after the Nuggets pushed following a miss by Booker. Malik Beasley checked in with a few minutes remaining, and while he had a turnover trying to corral a pass (bad!) he did have a nice feed to Mason Plumlee for an alley-oop (good!).

Grant got stuffed by Chieck Diallo on the first shot of the fourth quarter, then Beasley committed an offensive foul, and before you knew it, the Suns had reclaimed the lead. Beasley drove the rim and tried to blow the roof off the Pepsi Center with a dunk attempt, but it didn’t fall, although Plumlee was there to gather the miss and finish with two hands. Beasley had a 3-pointer from the left wing, Morris followed with a layup and 3-pointer of his own, and the Nuggets had a nice little string of possessions strung together for a change.

This pretty much explained the middle of the fourth quarter for the Nuggets. Morris and Beasley took over, blitzing the Suns to power a 15-4 run. For the first time in what felt like a long time, the starters were able to come into the game with the reserves having increased a lead that they had earned in the third quarter. Murray uncorked one of his stepback 3-pointers to give the Nuggets a 12-point lead with just under four minutes remaining, Millsap hit back-to-back jumpers, and the Nuggets had a lead they wouldn’t relinquish.

Three things I noticed

Paul Millsap is killing it as of late. The Nuggets veteran big man is certainly earning every single cent of his contract this season. His defense has continued to be good, but he’s knocking down 3-pointers, getting to the free throw line, and he even had a turnaround fadeaway tonight. Whatever he did over the offseason, it’s working. Perhaps he’s just benefiting from being fully healthy for the first time in a while. If that’s the case, man, wrap that dude in bubble wrap the second he leaves the court, because he’s playing great basketball.

A Malik Beasley sighting! I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Monte Morris started playing really well once Beasley entered the game. I know Beasley was sick a couple weeks ago, but there’s no basketball reasons why he shouldn’t be part of the rotation. He’s the athletic, sharpshooting super-freak (that’s a compliment) that the bench needs at the 2-guard position. He helps space the floor, he can rebound, and he’s improved as a driver. The Nuggets need someone that can get buckets with the second unit, and that is not — I repeat, not — Michael Porter Jr. right now. MPJ could get there, but the Nuggets are trying to win games now, and they shouldn’t continue to throw MPJ out there if he’s not going to knock down 3-pointers when they run plays for him. It was great to see Beasley out there trying to murder defenders with dunks and stroking 3-pointers.

What a get-right game. For a little while, it looked like this was going to be yet another nail-biter, with the Suns holding a two-point lead early in the fourth quarter. But the Nuggets were able to figure things out on offense with their reserves, and the starters closed out the win. Jamal Murray has improved his stepback jumper, Jokic is looking more committed and more consistent, and the rest of the team is rounding into shape. This team looks dangerous, and deserving of the No. 2 spot in the Western Conference standings as we get close to the Thanksgiving holiday here this week.