The Denver Nuggets and Phoenix Suns were widely picked to be the top two teams in the Western Conference this season. While the Nuggets have for the most part lived up to that billing it’s been a bit of a battle for Phoenix who finally seemed to be back on the right track with a seven game winning streak before dropping their most recent contest against the Toronto Raptors. Both teams came into tonight’s contest battling injuries with the Nuggets missing Jamal Murray and Aaron Gordon and the Suns missing Devin Booker and Bradley Beal. That didn’t stop either team from scoring in bunches in what ended up being a very tight game at the end. The Nuggets got a masterful playmaking performance from Nikola Jokic who finished with sixteen assists while the Suns got big nights from Kevin Durant and Jusuf Nurkic. In the end every Denver starter scores fifteen or more points and the Nuggets hold on to beat Phoenix 119-111.

The Nuggets came out firing early and knocking down threes. Phoenix meanwhile was red hot to start as well, they didn’t miss a single shot over the first three minutes of the game. Both teams cooled off as the quarter progressed but Durant and Jokic had no problem getting whatever they wanted. Durant with his shooting and Jokic with his passing. Denver found a little separation as the bench units started to check in but it was still close with both teams still scoring at a high clip. The Suns started to sputter on offense around half way through the quarter. They didn’t have much outside of Durant and an occasional Nurkic bucket. That let Denver build a lead. Once it got to ten Frank Vogel had to take a timeout with two minutes left in the quarter. Jokic checked out but Reggie Jackson carried the load to close out the first. After one Denver was up 41-30.

Julian Strawther had a couple buckets for Denver to start the second quarter but otherwise there wasn’t a lot going on for the Nuggets on that end. The Suns were likewise fairly lost on offense with Durant on the bench so after a torrid scoring pace in the first it was quite the opposite at the beginning of the second. The stars checked back in around the seven minute mark and Jokic went to work diming up his teammates. Peyton Watson was still on the court which meant on the other end things weren’t as easy. PWat was defending Durant as well as anyone can. Denver’s lead kept growing as the second quarter moved past the halfway point. Phoenix fought back with a mini-run to keep it from getting completely out of hand but there was no answer for Jokic’s passing and Watson was absolutely clamping KD. Eric Gordon had a solid quarter and hit back to back threes near the end of the quarter to get Phoenix back within single digits. At the half Denver lead 70-63.

Denver opened the second half causing turnovers, drawing fouls and hitting threes. That put the lead back near ten quickly but Phoenix still was getting enough offense to not let Denver pull away completely. The Nuggets got it up to a dozen but Gordon knocked down another three sparking a Michael Malone timeout. Jokic started to get more aggressive on offense after not looking to shoot pretty much at all the first half. Meanwhile, Durant was going again on Phoenix’s side so the lead stayed right around ten with half the quarter gone. Phoenix was not going to go away. They kept pushing the lead back down to seven or six points behind Durant and Nurkic. A Nurkic floater got it down to three before Strawther knocked down a three to push it back to a half dozen. Phoenix kept coming and after a Nassir Little layup pulled them within two Malone had to take a timeout. He got Jokic a rest to close out the quarter and the bench didn’t let anymore damage be done. Denver got out of the third clinging to a 94-91 lead.

Grayson Allen knocked down a three a minute and a half into the third to tie the game and get a rage timeout from Malone. Both offenses were stagnant with their stars on the bench. Each team got exactly one field goal in the first three minutes of the quarter. The Nuggets were playing without Jokic or a point guard on the floor and it was hard to watch on offense. Both KD and Joker came back in at about the eight minute mark with Denver up two. Durant was struggling to score in the second half as Watson continued to play him tight. Baskets were tough to come by with the quarter progressing and the Nuggets still clinging to the lead. Durant looked to get to the line with his shot not falling and considering the refs refused to give a technical to every Suns player and coach who demonstrably disagreed with every call it was a good strategy. Denver knocked down back to back shots to push their lead to six with two and a half minutes to go. Durant pushed back and got Phoenix back within one but after a Denver bucket Nurkic elbowed Jokic in the face which was his sixth foul and upgraded to a flagrant. Jokic hit one of two free throws and then got a layup to push Denver’s lead to six with twenty-four seconds to go. Josh Okogie missed a three and MPJ iced it at the line. Nuggets win 119-11.

Best matchup: Nikola Jokic vs Jusuf Nurkic

Dec 1, 2023; Phoenix, Arizona, USA; Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic (left) defends against Phoenix Suns center Jusuf Nurkic (20) in the first half at Footprint Center. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

It was a good old fashioned Balkan battle down low tonight. As he usually does, Nurkic took the matchup personally against Jokic. He had an outstanding game all things considered. There was stretch in the third quarter where Nurkic looked like the second coming of Shaquille O’neal, using his size to absolutely bully his way to points in the post. Unfortunately for Nurk, his achilles heel reared it’s head at the worst possible moment with him fouling out on a crucial play. Jokic was once again brilliant. He let others do the scoring in the first half while he racked up the assists and then when guys couldn’t hit shots in the second half Joker stepped up and got some key baskets. A great battle that is even greater because Denver came out on top.

Peyton Watson is your KD stopper

If you just look at the box score it doesn’t look like anybody did much to stop Durant who finished the night with a nice clean thirty points. However, he did the vast majority of his damage from the field in the first half where he simply was just too long for Justin Holiday to be able to contain. When Malone brought Watson in and put him on KD everything changed. Suddenly Durant couldn’t buy a basket. This was absolutely not a case of a guy just going cold. It was a case of the length, athleticism, effort and tenacity of Watson giving Durant everything he could handle. Malone stuck with that in the second half and closed the game with PWat on the floor which continued to pay dividends. Durant was left to foul hunting because he couldn’t hit contested jumpers. Once Watson learns how to contain himself from fouling a bit more he’s going to be an absolute terror on defense for guys like Durant and a weapon come postseason time. For his efforts, Watson ended up as the DPOG.

Jokic cashes the Thing to Bet early

Plus money on Joker double-digit assists? Easy money. By tip-off the line on Jokic assists had shifted from 9.5 to 10.5 which would have changed the under to hitting…if it was a line for only the first half. Joker tallied ten assists in the first half and finishes with sixteen. Just a master class in making the right play and taking what the defense gives you.