This might be the Phoenix Suns biggest win of the season, considering they played the game against the West’s best team without Devin Booker.
Kelly Oubre Jr. had his best game as a Phoenix Sun, with 11 rebounds and 26 points, for his second career double double. He was the difference-maker in so many ways.
Josh Jackson (15 points, 5 assists, 4 rebounds), De’Anthony Melton (10 assists, 4 steals and a block) and Deandre Ayton (22 points, 13 rebounds and 3 blocks) were the Suns other difference makers, along with Richaun Holmes.
Suns win, 102-93.
Notes: Devin Booker and Jamal Crawford OUT; Gary Harris OUT
The Suns started out playing hard — A GOOD SIGN — on defense and offense, just not making all their shots. Deandre Ayton decided it’s okay to go after Nikola Jokic, also a good sign. Ayton’s rookie deference/star-struckness has hurt his engagement scores this year.
The Suns active defense forced a lot of Nuggets turnovers and bad shots early, helping the Suns take a 18-15 lead late in the first quarter, despite not making many shots of their own on the other end.
Mike Malone made wholesale changes to his lineup at that point and the Nuggets were able to tie the game on back-to-back questionable calls to send them to the free throw line while the Suns dry spell on scoring continued.
Finally, the lid came off the Suns bucket, and they led 31-23 after one quarter, scoring 13 points in that last 3:44 of the quarter. The Suns won the quarter with defense, for sure, and some timely threes (two in that run).
The Suns bugaboo all season was to have one really bad quarter in the first half, so I really expected a letdown once the clock reset to 12:00.
But I was wrong! The Suns pushed their lead 37-26, forcing yet another Nuggets timeout to try to stem the rising tide. But the Suns pushed it to 48-33 as they got every loose ball, forced all the deflections and started making jumpers. Kelly Oubre Jr. had 12 points, 4 rebounds and 2 assists already, with 7:23 left in the second quarter.
Denver finally made a run with Malik Beasley channeling the Suns’ energy to get a pair buckets at the rim (great cut to rim, steal/layup).
But still the Suns did not let their foot off the gas and pushed the lead up to 16 before the lid mysteriously covered the rim again for a few possessions and the Nuggets made a 7-0 run. Like the prior game, the Nuggets started doing a two-man wrecking crew of Murray and Jokic to force the Suns into fouls as Jokic threw his body around.
Still, the Suns held firm and took a 13 point lead into halftime, 60-47.
- Kelly Oubre has 16 points, 5 rebounds, 2 assists
- Josh Jackson 10 points, 2 assists
- De’Anthony Melton had a really good defensive half against Jamal Murray, but on the other end had only 4 assists and 0 points (0-3 from the field). Mikal Bridges had a really good defensive half too
- Ayton has 9 points, 7 rebounds while Richaun Holmes had 10 and 4, giving the Suns a really good half against big man Nikola Jokic
Now the big worry is how they start the third quarter.
Man, I was worried the Suns would come out flat in the second half but THEY DID NOT. De’Anthony Melton had steals on consecutive Nuggets possessions out of the gate, and the Suns hit the gas pedal once again to push their lead back to 18 before the Nuggets could answer.
The Nuggets made a run mid-quarter with some inspired passing and shotmaking, cutting the Suns lead to eight (74-66). Their defense picked up too, with Paul Millsap suddenly looking like he was everywhere for a bit.
Kelly Oubre’s three at the buzzer — banked in no less — put the Suns back up by 12 after the quarter. Oubre is the star of the game so far, with 23 points. Josh Jackson and Deandre Ayton both had 15.
Suns up 81-69 after three.
The Suns even came out hard in the fourth, pushing the lead to 86-71 despite Denver bench’s effort level significantly rising.
Ayton was contesting shots at the rim and the Suns wings were still swatting at passes, messing up the Denver rhythm.
Denver then tried the double-big with Plumlee and Jokic, but Ayton was having one of those good games and contesting well at the rim while getting ball on his end under the rim as well.
T.J. Warren made a three with 7:10 left to put the Suns back up 15 at 91-76. Another Denver timeout, another attempt to find a way to get back on this Suns team. Ayton with 20 and 12, plus THREE blocks.
Denver had one more push in them with the starters back, cutting the lead to 8 with 5:19 left. The Suns missed couple open ones, while Jokic had a personal 6-0 run on a pair of three-point plays (and-one bully ball plus a three).
But once again, the Suns held off Denver with some steals and timely shots by Holmes and Melton (free throws).