(Photo via: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports)
Nuggets snap a four-game road losing streak and complete the back-to-back.
The Denver Nuggets (23-11) survived again after a hot start against the Phoenix Suns (9-28) 122-118. Jamal Murray had another career night with 46 points, 8 assists, and 6 rebounds including 9 3-pointers. Jokic added another near triple-double with 23 points, 9 assists, and 8 rebounds. DeAndre Ayton couldn’t be stopped for the Suns with 33 as he and Booker combined for 60 of their own.
Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokic had it rolling early again as Murray got his rhythm on a pair of corner threes. Although the Nuggets started to get a little sloppy on the offensive end after their quick start their defense was firing on all cylinders. That included a Murray block on number one overall pick DeAndre Ayton.
The Nuggets dominated early on by pushing the pace, despite being on the second night of the back-to-back. Even in the half court, the Nuggets executed well and tore apart the Suns defense.
Paul Millsap made his return with just under four minutes to go in the first quarter and although he had some rust to shake off it was good to see Millsap back, and it seemed like his return may have brought some energy to the team.
Despite last nights’s injury Malik Beasley kept his hot streak going, and then some. Beasley had already hit his fourth three of the night early in the second quarter, holding his form all the way down the court for good measure.
Ayton dominated the second quarter as the Nuggets didn’t really have an answer for him defensively. As it turned out, the Suns didn’t really have an answer for Malik Beasley either as he set a new career-high mark for 3-pointers made with five.
Jamal Murray checked in without missing a beat, picking up right where he left off as a shooter and a facilitator to Plumlee off the secondary looks in Jokic pick and rolls.
Unfortunately, with the Jokic-Plumlee lineup the turnovers increased for Denver without much added defensive pressure on Ayton, as the Suns went on a brief 15-4 run just before half. Luckily, Juancho Hernangomez extended the lead back to 13 for the Nuggets with three to beat the buzzer.
Whatever the injury brought out of Jamal Murray it was positive. He had the confidence and playmaking ability to wave off Jokic and drill a step-back three over DeAndre Ayton. A possession later Murray showed off his playmaking by faking a pass to Jokic and taking the open layup for himself.
Coming off a game where he had his second highest scoring output of the season with 31 points. Tonight in fewer minutes Murray put on a show with his shooting efficiency, scoring 31 through three quarters alone, as well as a top five assists game on his season so far with eight.
Still, the Nuggets lacked that final push of energy to put the game out of reach. The Suns managed to keep the Nuggets lead floating around 14 late into the fourth quarter despite Jamal Murray making his push for 50 points.
Devin Booker was key for Phoenix taking advantage of Torrey Craig being in foul trouble on the defensive end, refusing to go away. Craig eventually did foul out on a Booker drive as the Suns cut the lead to 9.
As has unfortunately been the case far too often, the Nuggets just seemed to be giving this one away to a Phoenix team that got hot at the right time. The Nuggets tried to go to Jokic on offense but trading threes for twos wasn’t quite enough to keep the Suns from cutting the lead to three points at its lowest.
Even when it seemed like the Nuggets sealed the lead at seven Jokic threw away a lazy lob to Jamal Murray. Frustrated with himself, he came back down to hit the first free throw and gather his own miss off the second to give the Nuggets another possession to go up seven.
Mikal Bridges couldn’t miss down the stretch and eventually cut the lead back to three again. Fortunately, time ran out for the Suns and the Nuggets were able to close it out despite missing some free throws down the stretch.
Both last night’s game against San Antonio and tonight’s against the Suns were nearly thrown away in the second half by lackadaisical passing and execution on both ends of the court. Getting the win is ultimately the most important thing and the Nuggets have done a great job at getting out to huge early leads, but putting games away will be something the Nuggets have to figure out as the season goes on.