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Final Score: Suns show lots of fight but lose in Payton’s debut, 123-113

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Elfrid Payton played quite well, but the Suns could not hold off the hot-shooting Nuggets.

Denver Nuggets v Phoenix Suns Photo by Michael Gonzales/NBAE via Getty Images

Elfrid Payton made his Suns debut a good one, helping the Suns to an 80-73 lead late in the third quarter before the Suns ran out of gas and the Nuggets stormed back.

But another loss cannot dim the good debut of Elfrid Payton, whose passes were sweeter than any we’ve seen in Phoenix in years.

Payton finished with just 9 assists but he had at least 8-10 more scoring passes his teammates just couldn’t convert. Payton also added 19 points on 8-12 shooting and 6 rebounds.

Josh Jackson had a really great game all around, with 20 points, 7 rebounds, 5 assists, 4 blocks and a steal, with ZERO turnovers. Best game of his career, possibly.

Dragan Bender also had a great game, possibly juiced up by Nikola Jokic trying to bully him in the post. After starting the game with a pair of threes, Bender went inside for the rest of his career high 23 points. Bender also had 8 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 blocks and a steal.

T.J. Warren was the Suns best scorer, with 31 points, while grabbing 5 rebounds.

Denver made the big threes at the end - three straight at critical times, six in the fourth quarter overall - to stave off the Suns attempt at a rally. The Suns scored, but just didn’t have the firepower to match.

Denver made 6 more threes and 6 more free throws. That was really the game.

Good job good effort, Suns.

Out

For the Suns: Devin Booker, Tyler Ulis and Danuel House all out.

For the Nuggets: Paul Millsap and Mason Plumlee both out.

Starters

For the Suns: Elfrid Payton (who takes Bledsoe’s #2), Troy Daniels, Josh Jackson, T.J. Warren and Dragan Bender

For the Nuggets: Jamal Murray, Gary Harris, Will Barton, Wilson Chandler and Nikola Jokic

First half

On the Suns first four possessions, Elfrid Payton had three good assistable passes and a layup attempt of his own. Unfortunately, three of the four shots were missed, but the passes and drive for a layup were good plays. Each time, Suns players caught the ball in rhythm ready to take a shot. Two of the three were missed. On the other possession, Payton split the defense and had a reverse layup attempt but missed.

Still, that’s a good start for Payton.

Unfortunately, the Suns got down 7-0 before coming back to take the lead at 10-9. Dragan Bender made a pair of open threes in that 10-2 run.

My presgame worry about one of Jamal Murray or Gary Harris making 80% of their shots? They began the game 3-3 from the field, including a pair of threes. Oof.

By late first quarter, it was clear that Suns players were just not ready for Elfrid Payton’s scoring passes. He several times fed the ball to players cutting to the rim, through defenders, and the Suns player just wasn’t ready to catch and score in the same motion.

Josh Gray came in to relieve Payton and had an immediate impact, with a pair of steals and a deflection out of bounds on defense, and three free throws on the other end.

End of one: 28-23 Denver leads.

After Denver jumped out to a 10-point lead to start the second quarter, the Suns stormed back to a 36-36 tie with Josh Jackson a catalyst on both ends of the court, along with Josh Gray and Elfrid Payton.

The game stayed close the rest of the half, with Payton looking like the Suns best point guard since the height of Eric Bledsoe, and even Bledsoe didn’t have nearly as many good setups for shots.

  • Payton finished the first half with 9 points, 4 assists (though he had at least 8 more scorable passes)
  • T.J. Warren had a sublime 18 points
  • Dragan Bender had 12 points, 2 rebounds and 2 assists.
  • Josh Jackson had a great all around half: 10 points, 4 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 blocks and 1 steal with no turnovers.

Denver only led 62-60 at half.

This is a victory already, lol.

Second half

To start the second half, the Nuggets tried to make it a Jokic show. He started with a nice score and then a pass to a cutting Gary Harris, but then Daniels made a three over a pouting Jokic, Bender and Payton combined on a pass/cut themselves against Jokic, and finally Bender found Warren on a breakaway to give the Suns the lead.

Timeout Denver. And for once, it’s not a second-half opponent timeout because the Suns cut the deficit to less than 27 with a spirited score or two...

After the timeout, the Suns didn’t cave. They ran off a 5-0 run, capped by a Payton-to-Bender trailing three, to force yet another Denver timeout.

Ah man the Suns were fun to watch in this third quarter. Dragan, Jackson and Payton really setting the tone on effort and execution. What?

Will Barton kept the Nuggets alive, making difficult shot after difficult shot while getting Marquese Chriss out of his own head committing turnovers and fouls.

Denver retook the lead 87-85 on an 11-3 run that forced Triano to call timeout of his own, but by then the Suns had lost their rhythm.

Barton scored 16 points in the third quarter alone, and the Nuggets finished the quarter strong with a 94-89 lead.

The difference in the game: Suns are only 10-19 free throws, while the Nuggets are 17-19. If the Suns had just made their free throws, they’d have the lead.

They started the fourth quarter missing two more. Ugh.

By the time Gary Harris made a three, the Suns were down 10 after giving up a 26-9 scoring run by the Nuggets. Nearly all of that was with Elfrid Payton resting.

Payton, Bender and Jackson came back in with Warren to help the Suns get back into it. But the Suns were too tired by that time to make enough happen against the Nuggets starters.

Shots came up short. And the Nuggets found the rim.

Game over.