The Denver Nuggets messed around with the Phoenix Suns for three quarters before putting the game away in the fourth 119-91. Nikola Jokic was absolutely masterful in one of the most amazing performances I’ve ever seen, putting up 35 points, 12 rebounds, and 11 assists on a PERFECT 11/11 from the field.

Jamal Murray added 26 points and five assists, Gary Harris added 18 points and four assists, but the big story of this one was Will Barton going down in the third quarter with what appeared to be a nasty right hip injury.

The Nuggets continued with their typical starting lineup of Murray, Harris, Barton, Millsap, and Jokic, while the Suns countered with Isaiah Canaan, Devin Booker, Trevor Ariza, Ryan Anderson, and DeAndre Ayton. Early on, the Nuggets ran through Jokic, and he delivered with 14 of their first 23 points on 5/5 from the field with two assists and two foul shots. He was engaged defensively as well, grabbing three rebounds, two steals, and a block all while making life difficult for the rookie Ayton. Even after going out with two personal fouls, the Nuggets kept the tempo high, accumulating 17 fast break points in the first quarter. Murray and Barton in particular were aggressive getting out in transition.

In addition, the Nuggets’ defense maintained high pressure on the Suns’ guards, most notably Devin Booker. The Suns started the first quarter 5/19 from the field and 2/10 from beyond the arc, and Denver led Phoenix after one quarter 30-16.

The bench was a different story to begin the second quarter. With Monte Morris, Malik Beasley, Juancho Hernangomez, Trey Lyles, and Mason Plumlee on the floor, the Suns countered with four starters and Mikal Bridges. Denver immediately hemorrhaged points, as they struggled to keep pace with Phoenix’s pick and roll duo of Booker/Ayton. The unit was absolutely appalling, and Malone quickly went back to his starters, who didn’t fair much better after some questionable foul calls.

After a timeout, Denver continued running offense through Jokic, which generated multiple scores in a row. Jokic had it absolutely rolling throughout this game. He finished the first half with 23 points, and his overall effect on the offensive flow was staggering. Denver’s defense truly struggled in the second quarter though, and with seven offensive rebounds given up, the Nuggets have something to talk about at halftime. Despite that, Denver finished the quarter strong, including a Murray buzzer beater three to go up 65-49.

Denver started the third quarter with double high screen action that led to a Nikola Jokic alley-oop to Paul Millsap. But three minutes into the third quarter, the story turned to Will Barton, who appeared to injure his groin on a transition bucket.

Denver’s offense stayed hot in the third despite the injury to Barton. Murray and Harris turned up the defensive pressure, turning Devin Booker over multiple times during the middle of the period. Jokic stayed hot as well, cracking 30 points on 10/10 from the field. Just an absurd night for the Joker. Still, Denver let Phoenix back into it as soon as Jokic went off the floor, which revolved around stagnating offense and a lack of defensive execution. The score to finish the third quarter was 92-79, but Phoenix had all of the momentum.

To begin the fourth quarter, Denver kept Jamal Murray and Paul Millsap on the floor to keep the momentum in Denver’s favor, and while the offensive end was pretty solid, the defensive end kept Phoenix in it. But something else kept Phoenix in it as well.

Jokic returned though and restored order, re-orchestrating Denver’s offense and continuing his scoring perfection. With an and-1 and an assist to Murray, Jokic accumulated the first perfect scoring 30-point triple-double since Wilt Chamberlain in 1967. What a legend.

Denver coasted to victory to finish up this one with a final score of 119-91.

What the Stiffs said to watch:

The health of DeAndre Ayton

Ayton is clearly an excellent talent, but he got out to a rough start while matched up against Jokic, missing his first three shots and being benched twice with foul trouble in the first half. His size gave Denver’s second unit problems, but when matched up against Denver’s starters, he struggled. Ayton finished with five points and eight rebounds and wasn’t nearly the factor he was against the Dallas Mavericks in the Suns opener, no match for the Joker whatsoever.

Creating efficient team offense

Denver posted a 130.1 offensive rating in the first half and finished the game at 116.2. They had their struggles in the third and fourth quarter at times, but with the starters playing as well as they did, there was no stopping Denver when it mattered.

Proving the effort and focus was no fluke

The Nuggets struggled in the second quarter to get stops, but other than that, they were solid. Denver was aggressive, and while there were some slip-ups and tough Devin Booker jumpers, the Nuggets kept the effort high and made things difficult for Phoenix. Through two games, Denver looks to be playing with a different effort level, and it’s exciting for Denver’s playoff hopes.

Another thing that happened: Will Barton’s injury

What’s NOT exciting for Denver’s playoff hopes is an apparent injury to Will Barton’s right hip. He looked to be in a severe amount of pain tonight, and he was taken off the floor on a rolling stretcher. This could be a tough blow for Denver going forward. Already with shaky depth at small forward after Wilson Chandler was traded and with Michael Porter Jr. out for awhile, the Nuggets will likely turn to Torrey Craig for the time being. He fits well with Denver’s starters as a clear fifth option offensively and a hard-nosed defender. Despite that though, the Nuggets need Will Barton back. He’s too important for their playoff hopes.

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