The fourth place Phoenix Suns went up against the first place Nuggets in a late-season TNT tilt, but the air got sucked out of the balloon when the Nuggets sat all five starters for rest ahead of the playoffs.
The fully-loaded Suns played a really sluggish game for most of the night, trying out an offense that had point guard Chris Paul playing almost entirely off the ball until about five minutes remained in the game. Devin Booked collected 8 assists and the team had 26, but Paul only had 2 of them.
He still dominated at the right time anyway.
With the Suns down 107-105 with just over 4 minutes left, Chris Paul assisted or scored every point in a 9-0 Suns run to finally give the Suns some cushion. They never trailed again.
Suns win, 119-115.
Kevin Durant had 29 points, while Chris Paul poured in 25 (7 of 12 on threes). Denver was led by Bruce Brown’s 31 points.
The Suns will play the Lakers in LA tomorrow night.
Starters in this one: Suns full squad vs. Nuggets backups.
The Suns regular starters came out flat, as you might have expected when the Nuggets announced that not a single one of their starters would play in this one. They were a half-step slow on both ends, and Denver took a 7-5 lead.
In fact, the fans got tired waiting for the Suns first score, which didn’t come up almost three minutes into the game. How could I tell they were tired? Because the cheer for KD’s triple coincided 100% with the sitting motion. The opposite of what you usually see at a game.
KD was having none of this half-speed stuff, taking the ball into the hole multiple times to force the action. But none of the other guys was making a positive difference until a Josh Okogie steal and slam ignited the crowd, finally giving the Suns as many shots made as fouls committed (3) a full five minutes into the game.
The Suns were only up 27-25 after one quarter, with Torrey Craig the leading scorer at 7 points on 3-4 shooting. Paul and Booker clearly were not engaged in this one. Book went 1-5, while Paul went 0-1. They combined for 0 assists and 1 rebound. Because that’s what we all thought would happen.
This game has the intensity of a preseason game— Nicholas Stick (@nippstick) April 7, 2023
Early in the second quarter, the Nuggets took a 32-31 lead on a Jeff Green three, then 36-34 on an Ish Smith jumper.
At one point the Nuggets fumbled a dribble and not one Sun dove to the ground to grab it, while a pair of Nuggets collided going after it. Also, Denver ran out hard on every Suns miss, and almost always got the layup, even when the Suns players had gotten back ahead of the Nuggets.
With the score 45-42 Nuggets at 4:31 of the second quarter, the Nuggets led the Suns 26-10 on points in the paint. The Suns were getting beaten on hard drives to the hoop from the perimeter, namely from Christian Braun and Ish Smith. Timeout, Monty.
Out of timeout, the Suns played hard for a minute, went on a 10-2 run to take the lead back, but then got lazy again again found themselves up only 56-55 at halftime. The Suns defense allowed Denver to shoot 52% from the field, including 9 fast break points.
Wasn’t any better. The Nuggets still kept driving the ball. The Suns still kept letting them get to the basket.
The Nuggets went up 80-74 with 3:30 left in the third quarter. They had 50 of their 80 points in the paint, with only 10 of those coming from the ancient DeAndre Jordan. The rest came from guys driving in from the perimeter with no one stopping them. Suns defensive rotations are definitely bad in this one. Like, bad bad. And it doesn’t help that Booker is 1-10 from the field.
Also, the Suns are once again giving up easy points on their turnovers. The Nuggets have 18 points on the Suns 8 turnovers. More than 2 points per turnover is BAD.
The Suns offset the Nuggets hustle a bit with 48% shooting on threes, and they grabbed a three-point lead after three quarters, 89-96. Booker led a late charge to close the third quarter. His first two drives into the paint the whole game came inside the final minute, and he closed the quarter with 13 points (2-11 shooting) and 7 assists.
Jeff Green is having himself a game, with 3 threes, 4 free throws and a dunk to help give the Nuggets the lead back at 91-89 early in the fourth. These Nuggets backups are full of confidence and the Suns just aren’t taking it away.
Zeke Nnaji made a three to put the Nuggets up 99-93 with 8 and a half minutes left to stun a Suns crowd desperate to get excited about something. A quick 5-0 scoring run from Kevin Durant got the Suns back to one down, but Denver kept coming.
They kept the lead the mid-point of the quarter despite Book and KD getting shot after shot. Reggie Jackson made a couple of howd-he-make-thats, but then Chris Paul got KD a wide open corner three with about 4 minutes left and then a DA dunk attempt (fouled).
By the way, the KD corner three was only Chris Paul’s second assist of the night, and when Paul made a second-chance three a minute later the Suns finally had a good lead at 114-107. Paul spent most of this game off the ball, actually, practicing his spacing and catch-and-shoot game. He took 10 threes out of 12 shots, and tied Booker’s career high in regular season threes with 6 to give the Suns that 7-point lead with 3:07 left.
Denver had led 103-102 with 6 minutes left. The Suns outscored them 14-4 the next four minutes.
Paul’s seventh three pointer gave the Suns a 119-111 lead with a minute left.