Somewhat last-minute decisions from the Denver Nuggets saw their head coach, Mike Malone, without four of five starters Friday night.
Denver was without Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murray, Michael Porter Jr, and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope in their game against the Phoenix Suns.
A lackluster third quarter from the Suns allowed Nuggets to cut their lead to as little as four points and threatened them multiple times before Phoenix got back right to finish the game in the end.
The Suns saw Kevin Durant come out early re-establish his touch and feel for scoring. Via set plays, transition, isolation, and out of pick-and-roll, he navigated himself to his favorite sports on the floor and converted with 19 first-half points.
In addition to Durant’s scoring flow, Devin Booker had 18 first-half points. He found a rhythm shortly after Durant and began to put his stamp on the game in the half-court.
37 points - combined - from Durant & Booker on 12-for-18 from the field pic.twitter.com/EzLU4c4jQc— Stephen PridGeon ☯️ (@StayTrueSDot3) April 1, 2023
The Nuggets struggled on both ends, as Durant and Booker were each hot. Aaron Gordon eventually took charge as their most skilled offensive weapon, in addition to efforts from Ish Smith and Christian Braun.
However, Suns starting point guard Chris Paul helped control the pace of the game and his team led at halftime, 60-40, behind an astronomical 120.0 half-court offensive rating.
The Suns’ 20-point lead ballooned to as much 27 before they stumbled on a problematic stretch of play.
Questionable shot selection, muddied movement, and turnovers all allowed for the Nuggets to come back into the game. Denver dictated the flow of the game in the paint with 62 points there and won the third quarter, 34-24.
The Nuggets were able to get back into the game by collecting offensive rebounds and pushing the ball in transition.
The Nuggets cut the Suns’ lead to four before Phoenix created a two-possession difference that lasted until under five minutes left in the game.
Denver had another run that cut Phoenix’s lead to four, then the Suns had multiple defensive stops that led to scores that allowed them to outlast their opponent.
Player of the Game
Kevin Durant finished with 30 points on 9-for-12 shooting from 2-point range and 2-for-3 from 3-point range. His true shooting percentage was 80.6.
"Every minute I'm on the floor is just an opportunity for me to keep getting comfortable out here with my teammates."— Bally Sports Arizona (@BALLYSPORTSAZ) April 1, 2023
KD grabs the 30-piece and the @Suns are now 5-0 with him on the floor.#WeAreTheValley | @SweetJames pic.twitter.com/J4RMOUsrS4
Durant was also solid on the defensive end, recording two blocks and using his quick hands to record a steal and multiple deflections.