The Denver Nuggets had a few days to rest and stew on a 1-3 start before facing the Phoenix Suns who were coming off a game in Utah the previous night. The Nuggets started strong but Phoenix used a big second quarter and foul trouble on Nikola Jokic to build a double digit lead in the second half behind Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton. Jamal Murray led a Denver comeback but they ultimately end up falling short in the final minute of the game. The Nuggets lose 106-103 and drop to 1-4 on the season.
Both teams got a couple buckets early on but had a pretty slow pace to start the game. Denver’s defense was much improved compared to their previous contests to keep them in front while the offense was flat outside of Murray who was red hot to start. Midway through the quarter Denver got some help from their other cast members, Jokic hit a three and Gary Harris had a strong take for a dunk. If it weren’t for Mikal Bridges Denver’s lead would have been larger down the stretch of the first but his timely threes kept Phoenix within five. Meanwhile Jokic was surgically dissecting Phoenix’s defense, he racked up a half dozen assists before there were two minutes left in the first quarter. The Suns saving grace was the three point line and they maximized their advantage from deep, knocking down seven threes and closing the 1st quarter on a 17-7 run to take a two point lead.
The Nuggets went small to open the second quarter with JaMychal Green and four guards, it didn’t slow down Phoenix at all but they did get some baskets on Denver’s end as well. Chris Paul gave the Nuggets bench, specifically Facundo Campazzo, all they could handle while Barton started forcing it on the other end. Phoenix’s lead pushed to eight to cause Michael Malone to take a timeout. Jokic and Murray checked back in but Denver’s defense was non-existent while their shooting went cold. The Suns pushed it all the way to sixteen before Jokic finally hit a shot to stop the bleeding. The Nugget mounted a mini comeback to get back within ten before their offense stalled again with about two minutes to go in the half. They were able to keep it right in that range despite the lack of buckets and headed to the half down 60-49.
Jokic and Murray got a run going for Denver to start the second half and cut the Suns lead to six within the first couple of minutes. Unfortunately Jokic also picked up three fouls early in the quarter and had to sit with the Suns up ten and eight and a half minutes to go in the third. Murray held the ship afloat but the Nuggets couldn’t close the lead while Joker was off the floor. Booker came alive for Phoenix with easy baskets at the rim and pushed the lead to fourteen with four minutes to go. Malone risked it by putting Jokic back on the floor with two minutes to go but he quickly picked up his fifth foul. Interestingly, coach also elected to go with R.J. Hampton over Campazzo to close the third. Denver’s bench fought valiantly in the final minutes of the quarter and dialed up the defense. Phoenix ended the third with five straight turnovers and after three was up by just nine points.
The bench stalled out a bit to start the fourth while Ayton continued to be a thorn in Denver’s side. Despite their offensive woes, the Nuggets defense held serve and kept the game right around a ten point deficit before Jokic checked back in with seven minutes to go. That primed the Nuggets for the opportunity to make one last run behind Jokic and Murray. They strung together some makes to get the Nuggets within five with just over five minutes to go. Denver’s stars continued to push the comeback while Booker went cold on offense getting the Nuggets within a bucket with the quarter drawing down. Monte Morris cashed in a three about a minute later to give Denver their first lead since the first quarter. Phoenix responded and got a two point lead with a minute to go. Harris got fouled on a layup but the Suns challenged and it was overturned. Phoenix won the tip at half court and Paul hit the clutch two on the other end. Jokic responded with a huge three to give Denver a chance. Paul hit both free throws after an intentional foul and Murray missed an off balance three at the buzzer. Phoenix wins 106-103.
Prob not a good idea to leave this man open pic.twitter.com/Jq9TQwltK5— Denver Nuggets (@nuggets) January 2, 2021
Three Things I noticed
Best matchup: Nikola Jokic vs DeAndre Ayton
The bigs put on a big battle tonight. Jokic absolutely was dominating as he has all season and was well on his way to a big triple double after the first half. In the third quarter he quickly got into foul trouble and that hurt the Nuggets on both ends. Ayton made the most of the minutes with Nikola off the floor and continued his run of good games against Denver. He’s just too big and too much to handle for anyone other than Joker. Once Nikola got back in he continued to dominate and Ayton became not as big of a factor. Jokic ended up finishing with a near triple double at 17 points, 11 assists and 9 rebounds while Ayton had a huge stat line himself with 22 points, 11 boards and a pair of blocks.
What stuck out: JaMychal Green was solid
Green was solid in his first regular season game in a Nuggets uniform. He ended up with eight points and four rebounds and didn’t miss from the floor. It was easy to see why the Nuggets wanted him on the roster. He can do a lot of the same things Paul Millsap does and there doesn’t seem to be any drop off when Green comes in off the bench. Hopefully the Nuggets will get their full rotation available soon but until they do it’s nice to know they’ve got JaMychal available to at least knock down some threes in Michael Porter Jr’s absence.
Closing thought: got to move past it
The Nuggets are now 1-4 to start the season with three losses coming to teams that didn’t make the playoffs last season. While we can talk about how the Suns are a better team this year fact of the matter is Denver is currently in last place in the Western Conference. They’ve got a pair of games against the Minnesota Timberwolves before a difficult stretch to close out the month. Still, even while things look not the best right now a pair of wins against a division rival is exactly what the doctor ordered. The Nuggets need to refocus and get back on the winning path, and quick.