Well, I hate to say it, but in a lot of ways--other than the final result, of course--I liked the way the Suns played in this game better than the one last night. That is, I liked the fact that they didn't let themselves fall into a 20-point hole before fighting to get back in it. This time, the Suns kept it within reach right up until the end. Unfortunately, the Nuggets fought just as hard, and the Suns were never able to get over the hump, even when they had the lead briefly in the fourth quarter. It's tough to lose any game right now, since the standings are so tight, but otherwise, there's really no shame in splitting a back-to-back with a team that's desperately fighting to get into the playoffs.
Random bullets of interest:
- The Nuggets defended the free throw line brilliantly. Not only did they keep the Suns from getting there much, they held them to 54% when they did. The Suns had 26 free throw attempts to the Nuggets' 47, and they missed 12 of those 26. That's your ballgame right there.
- The Suns' resiliency got a test tonight when Raja Bell got his second technical and was ejected. Another test came in the fourth quarter when Boris Diaw fouled out. Fortunately, Mike D'Antoni had already broken into his rotation a little, so Brian Skinner was warmed up and ready, as was Gordan Giricek. Just a mental note to file away in case anyone decides to leave the bench at the wrong time a month from now.
- 18 assists for Steve Nash tonight, but his jumper didn't arrive at the arena until the fourth quarter. It also took a bathroom break when the Suns needed a desperation three at the end of the game. But he did hit some big shots earlier in the quarter, and just like last night, he was the one that finally gave the Suns the lead, this time at the free throw line. He also had a rare three steals, and played some nice defense on several key possessions.
- Another great line from Amare tonight. His fantasy owners are loving life right now--well, unless they're in a league that counts turnovers. He had six of those, but they pale in comparison to the stellar 9-of-12 shooting resulting in 25 points to go with his 10 rebounds. He also caused a couple of turnovers of his own with his two steals.
- Speaking of great lines, how about Barbosa with the 27 points on 11-of-16, and the 5-of-8 three-pointers? Too bad he couldn't hit that one at the end of the game, though.
- I loved Gordan Giricek in this game. He was pesky, Raja Bell-like in baiting people into offensive fouls. He also was loading it up from three, going 4-of-6 behind the arc, and 6-of-9 overall en route to a much-needed 16 points off the bench.
- As mentioned earlier, we had a Brian Skinner sighting, and he tried to make the most of it, playing with energy and shooting well (4-of-6). At one point, the lineup was Skinner, Diaw, Shaq, Barbosa, and Giricek. Do I detect a little chemistry experiment for the playoffs?
- Gotta give the Nuggets their props tonight. They could have folded down the stretch for a second night in a row, and they didn't. They hung tough when the Suns took the lead, and got that one last stop that the Suns couldn't get themselves. Hats off to 'em.
Runner-Up: I'm dodging the stat lines again and picking Gordan Giricek. On a night when the Suns were short-handed, and had their 6th man in the starting lineup, Giricek delivered with both scoring and defense off the bench.