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Recap: Phoenix Suns fall to the Denver Nuggets 120-114

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An electric third quarter is not enough to pull the Suns out of an early hole.

NBA: Denver Nuggets at Phoenix Suns Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

During a rare early afternoon tip off, the Suns spewed few flames offensively at the start, going nearly the first four minutes of the game without a point. The crowd grew restless, eliciting sarcastic cheers once a few buckets finally found their way home. Although some ground was made up by the end of the first quarter, the visiting Denver Nuggets answered early and often, specifically during a 16-0 surge in the second quarter. Before it was all said and done, the lead had been pushed to twenty entering halftime.

A third quarter shooting display by Eric Bledsoe and Devin Booker provided a glimpse of “we got a ballgame here” chatter, but Denver refused to cough up their lead despite Phoenix’s valiant effort. It seemed like each time the Suns would get within three points, you would look down for two minutes and things would have ballooned back up to 10.

Some assorted thoughts:

  • I would be hard-pressed to name another half where I saw more missed lay ins from a team. (Alright, that might be an exaggeration, but still.) Phoenix was able to get to the sparingly in the first half, but even when they did, they were unable to cash in. A hopeful crowd would grown with each teasing roll around the rim, and an inability to accumulate baskets at the rim can take a toll on any offense. You would think that a team that wants to pride itself on their knifing guard play would be able to muster more than 12 points in the point in the first half. It’s difficult to manipulate a defense without first imposing an inside threat due to dribble penetration.
  • After deflecting a possible lineup change during the pregame presser, Coach Watson opted to go with P.J. Tucker rather than bet on the turbo-charged three guard lineup to wreak some havoc. Wilson Chandler was the likely cause to this effect, but it will be interesting to see how Watson continues to toggle with the lineup going forward.
  • With Marquese Chriss struggling, Dragan Bender got some extended run during the first half. The Nuggets almost seemed prepared for this to happen, immediately tasking rookie guard Jamal Murray (not the thickest of individuals) with the duty of guarding Bender. The mind trick worked, as Bender took an out of flow three with his first shot attempt that caught nothing but air. Later on, Bender would attempt to post-up Murray to no avail. Look for more teams to keep this trend going until Bender can prove that he is more than guard masked in a 7-footer’s frame.
  • Prior to today’s game, the Suns had posted a defensive rating of 99.1 over their last five games. There was hope that that figure was more of a trend than a blip, and that they could ride an improving defense into the top 10 of defensive rating in the league (they are currently 18th). It is good to aspire to reach certain benchmarks, but it will be difficult to crack the top 10 — even top 20 for that matter — with the implementation of all of the young guns an ongoing theme for the season. Perhaps the assorted athleticism and length can create a cohesive and stingy unit over time.
  • The much maligned Tyson Chandler and Alex Len front court paring made an appearance and helped ignite the comeback in the third quarter! Shout to Coach Watson for pushing the right button.
  • I think Jameer Nelson took five shots throughout the game in the midst of a Suns’ run and made all five of them, putting a muzzle on the crowd in the process. Dude can still ball.
  • An extra-large lineup featuring Chandler, Chriss, and Bender started off the fourth quarter. I actually respect the ambition from Coach Watson to throw out any combination of players on a whim. It keeps the other team guessing. I just wonder if his own players struggle with not having a consistent “rotation” set in place.
  • Bledsoe and Booker were the main source of offense for the Suns on this day, pouring in 35 and 30 points respectively. Much like how the Portland Trail Blazers lean on their guards to spark an otherwise meh set of offensive talent, most Suns possessions consist of Bledsoe and Booker trading motions and pick-and-rolls until something juicy opens up. The emergence of T.J. Warren was an important development to combat stretches when the duo don’t have things going. Offensive possessions are a bit more challenging without Warren’s unique ability to get a bucket as things break down.
  • The Brandon Knight as a sixth man experiment had another bad day at the lab. Knight played only 18 minutes, and shot 2 of 10 during that time, raising the volume on his naysayers and hurting his trade value in the process. It feels as though something has to give with this situation eventually.

Here is a box score for those interested. Let’s hash out our solutions to right the ship in the comment section.