As the NBA celebrates its 75th season, the Suns enter their 54th as a franchise. With the loss against Denver, the team is now 29-25 in season openers all time and 36-18 in home openers. Fun fact: Phoenix was 18-4 in home openers through their first 22 seasons. They are 18-14 since 1989-90.
It was a poor performance for Devin Booker, who shot 3-of-15 from the field and scored only 12 points for Phoenix. He wasn’t alone. Phoenix overall shot 41.4% on the evening and 14-of-37 from downtown. Meanwhile, the Nuggets were led by the league MVP, Nikola Jokic, who posted a double-double to start his season with 27 points and 13 rebounds.
Here is how it went down on opening night.
The first points of the season were scored by Deandre Ayton on a beautiful 11-foot fadeaway in the paint over reigning MVP Nikola Jokic. The man who has been the subject of many a news story this past week scored 8 of the Suns first 12 points, starting 4-of-5 from the field. The only miss? A heat-check transition three-pointer. Because why not? The fourth year center looked fantastic to begin the game.
Deandre Ayton with 8 points in the first 5 minutes— Kellan Olson (@KellanOlson) October 21, 2021
Aaron Gordon, who childishly wears the number 50 out of Slam Dunk Contest spite, was attacking early with his size and athleticism. He was a key cog during a 13-0 first quarter run for the Nuggies. He ended the first quarter with 8 points on 3-of-4 shooting — including 1-of-1 from deep — to lead the team. Gordon received a nice pay increase this past offseason as the Nuggets are shelling out $92M over the next four years for the forward.
The first major substitutions by Monty William occurred with the Suns down 5 points, 20-15, at the 4:12 mark in Q1. The Suns didn’t score again until Landry Shamet hit an 11-foot pull up jumper with 41.9 seconds left in the first. Shamet hit a three to help Phoenix close the quarter on a 5-0 run. Sham? Yeah Wow.
After one: Denver 26, Phoenix 20.
The Suns started the second quarter with a rotation of Chris Paul, Landry Shamet, Abdel Nader, and JaVale McGee. Cam Payne had been rushing his playmaking which led to turnovers and poor possessions for Phoenix, allowing the Nuggets to jump out to an early lead. Paul’s presence calmed the offense and reset the scoring attack. Cam Johnson smoothly hit a three-pointer to start the period and extended their run to 8-0.
Monty Williams with a very short leash on Cam Payne after a rough start.— Zona (@ZonaHoops_) October 21, 2021
Chris Paul running with the second unit has them settled down. Monty just knows this team too damn well.
Chris Paul deposited a couple from deep as well. It was a sight we missed in the NBA Finals. His handles were crisp and his shot was fluid. The offseason wrist surgery clearly was successful. The point guard in his 17th year ended the first half with 11 points and 5 assists.
Deandre Ayton returned to the court and it happened: he nailed a three-pointer, the 8th of his career. He followed it by holding his own on defense, forcing the Joker to hold the ball too long and making a late pass in the possession. The buzzer sounded as the Nuggets committed a shot clock violation. Quality on both ends by DA.
On one end Ayton makes a three and gets to the line. On the other end he bodies Jokic and forces him to think too long, ultimately causing a shot clock violations.— Suns JAM Session Podcast (@SunsJAM) October 21, 2021
Pay. This. Man. His. Money. pic.twitter.com/MaLdnmemWJ
After being down early 26-15, Phoenix put together a 34-10 run, including a 16-2 spurt, through the second quarter to take a 49-36 lead. The ball movement and speed, which was negated by the Nuggets to start the game, was too much for Denver to keep up with.
Bridges began making his presence felt on both ends of the court as well. If Gordon tried to back Bridges down for positioning in the paint, Mikal would simply disrupt the entry pass and the steal would lead to points on the other end. Bridges wide open for three? Sha-zam! Mikal slashes on the baseline? Booker finds him for a dunk. His continual movement did nothing but benefit him and the team in the second.
Denver closed the quarter on a 9-0 run, including a deep 28-foot buzzer beating three-pointer by Jokic. Phoenix entered the locker room after outsourcing the Nuggets 38-25 in the second, taking a 58-51 lead into halftime.
Deandre led all Suns’ scorers with 13 points. Jokic lead all scorers with 15.
It didn’t take long for the Nuggets to close the gap after a Monte Morris three-pointer and a layup by Aaron Gordon. The 16-point lead Phoenix once had was cut to two. Phoenix, rather than using ball movement and cutting to create points, went into “let’s jack up some three’s” mode. The first three shots of the third quarter were from deep: one from Mikal and two from Jae. We’ve seen this movie before, right?
The Nuggets would take the lead 63-62 midway through the third.
Nothing against Denver but it feels like the Suns are playing with their food a bit here. Took an early lead, went to sleep, took another big lead, went to sleep...— Dave King (@DaveKingNBA) October 21, 2021
Phoenix started the quarter shooting 3-of-16 from the field and after another Morris three-pointer, the Suns had to call timeout down 74-65. If you know math, you know that is a nice little 25-point turnaround for the Nuggets. The Suns to this point of the game — the 4:36 mark in the third — were 23-58 from the field (39.7%). Denver was 31-56 (55.4%). If it weren’t for the FTM (PHX 10, DEN 2) the game would be really out of hand.
Enter the second unit.
Ignited by Cameron Payne, the Suns began to play with urgency, speed and passion once again. The Nuggets still were hitting their shots — Michael Porter, Jr. was looking like a guy who deserved his rookie extension — but at least the Suns had some fire once again.
Landry Shamet capped an 8-0 run for Phoenix to close within three points with under a minute to play in the third quarter. They ended the quarter shooting 6-of-7. The Nuggets outscored the Suns 35-25 in Q3 and took an 85-82 lead into the fourth.
The 14-year veteran Jeff Green began the fourth with two threes for Denver and they began on an 11-2 run. The constant bombardment from deep highlighted one constituent theme throughout the night: the Phoenix Suns perimeter defense was extremely poor. The Nuggets continually were taking three-pointers, and no one in a Valley uniform was near them.
Deandre Ayton scored his first second-half points with 7:34 left in the fourth. Once again...a movie we’ve seen before. After a dominant first half, Ayton was a ghost for a quarter-and-a-half. Whether this is by design from Monty Williams or a result of Ayton’s motor, it’s something that needs to improve moving forward.
Nikola Jokic reentered the game and made his impact felt with 6 quick points. The MVP had plenty of rest as his team ballooned the lead with him on the pine which allowed him to come out ready to finish the game in an aggressive and physical manner. And that he did. Couple that with his teammates hitting daggers, and the Suns faded into the Arizona evening.
Thrill has been great tonight. That 3 felt like the dagger. Suns haven't scored in nearly 3 minutes but it has felt like triple that. Just no flow in the offense.— Kellan Olson (@KellanOlson) October 21, 2021
The inconsistency burned Phoenix, who were outscored in the fourth quarter, and lost 110-98. That’s right. They didn’t even break 100.
It’s another nationally televised gamed for Phoenix on Friday as they square off against the 0-1 Los Angeles Lakers.
Will the Suns remind Los Angeles that they’ve haven’t won a game since the infamous LeBron back down moment? Will the new-look Lakers be able to thwart the Phoenix Suns? Is it indeed true that Phoenix purple is much, much sexier than Laker purple?
Tune in to find out!