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Quick Recap: Suns’ slow start dooms them against Nuggets, 122-118

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Phoenix’s lethargic energy to begin this game overshadowed a dominant scoring performance from Deandre Ayton.

NBA: Denver Nuggets at Phoenix Suns Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Following Friday’s loss versus the Oklahoma City Thunder where Russell Westbrook finally broke out of his slump, Nikola Jokic and Co. came to town on their own second night of a back-to-back.

If it wasn’t for the Suns’ disastrous start to the game where they trailed by 20 after the first quarter, this game would’ve been way closer than it finished.

You know the drill by now with my game recaps, Bright Side readers. I’ll quickly run through what I liked (Thumbs Up) and didn’t like (Thumbs Down) from the Suns following their latest loss dropping them to 9-28 on the season.

Thumbs Up: Deandre Ayton

What a way to respond after the Nuggets built a 20-point lead by the Suns’ No. 1 pick. Ayton was a complete monster throughout the second quarter dropping 24 points on 12-for-13 shooting.

That was quite possibly the showcase for what could happen in the near future, if the Suns continue to build around Ayton as a primary scoring option. Quite honestly, that was Joel Embiid-esque from Ayton.

At halftime alone, Ayton had already amassed 25 points and 9 rebounds while only missing three shot attempts. Unreal.

In the end, Ayton wasn’t getting fed enough throughout the second half as he only took five shots. After such a strong outing in the first half, that’s almost inexcusable to not run the offense through Ayton even with consistently dynamic scoring options alongside him like Booker and T.J. Warren.

This was Ayton’s career-high in points as he finished with 33 points and 14 rebounds at an elite efficiency clip of 80 percent (16-for-20 on FGA).

Thumbs Down: 1st Quarter Defense

A trend I’m starting to pick up on is the Suns’ tendency to look like they’re playing in molasses on defense throughout the first 12 minutes. The Nuggets scored 36 on Phoenix in the first quarter.

Ever since Devin Booker’s return to the starting lineup on Dec. 15, the Suns have the second-worst first quarter defense allowing 34.3 points. Only the fast paced Sacramento Kings are allowing more at just over 35 points.

If Phoenix wants to go on a run during the second half of this season, they have to work on getting themselves out of these slow starts. Over the past few weeks alone, multiple losses have come from this exact reason as they have been respectable the final 36 minutes most nights.

Thumbs Up: Defensive Activity from Kelly Oubre Jr., Mikal Bridges, and De’Anthony Melton

Once the Suns trailed by nearly 30 points early in the second quarter, it seemed like they were ready to pack it in. However, when you have three defensive-minded young guys who don’t give up, it makes a huge difference.

Sparked by the pure energy these three provided, Phoenix brought their halftime deficit down to nearly single digits, 62-49.

Even though it might not always show in the box score, the intangibles these three bring are so valuable alongside scoring juggernauts like Booker and Ayton. Melton put together another outing with multiple steals, while Bridges and Oubre Jr. notched at least a block and steal once more.

That’s one way how you can help build a defense-first identity with players like this long-term.

Thumbs Down: Devin Booker Suffers Lower Back Contusion

Devin Booker took a charge on Jamal Murray midway through the second quarter. Once he hit the ground, Booker immediately grabbed at his lower back while writhing in pain on the floor. Booker went back to the Suns’ locker room with less than two minutes before halftime.

Per Suns PR, Booker was diagnosed with a lower back contusion. However, no need to worry because the Suns’ franchise player returned to begin the second half and looked like his old self scoring in bunches.

Even after wearing what looked like a compressor on his lower back during some timeouts, Booker chipped in 20 more points the rest of the way to finish with 27.

Booker continued to touch at the injured area from to time, so we’ll update you here at Bright Side Of The Sun once more information becomes available. The thing is, after Booker had the second half he did, I think he’s probably just fine after that awkward fall on his back.