The last time the Phoenix Suns and Denver Nuggets met — back on Dec. 12 in the Mile High City — the Suns blew a 17-point lead and dropped their fifth game in seven tries. From that point on, blowing leads became second nature to the Suns, so much so that it was seemingly the only topic of conversation regarding the team for the better part of a month and a half.
Even as recent as a week ago, mental lapses and scoring droughts were everyday phrases on Planet Orange.
But after three gutsy wins against Western Conference foes in Dallas, Houston and New Orleans, the Suns did something tonight that wasn’t even in the realm of possibilities a few weeks ago: Dominate an opponent from the opening tip to the final buzzer. That domination resulted in a 109-97 victory.
“We played well from start to finish,” Alvin Gentry told Suns.com. “Everyone played well.”
Phoenix handed the Nuggets only their second loss in their last 12 games, and their fourth of the season in front of the home crowd at the Pepsi Center. But the fact that the Suns beat the Western Conference’s No. 2 seed isn’t cause for extreme celebration, as there was never any doubt that the Suns could compete with the cream of the crop.
The most impressive takeaway from tonight’s game was rather the fashion in which the Suns captured their fourth straight victory.
The first quarter was back and forth, but the Suns ultimately ended the period up by six. The Nuggets answered back to take a 31-30 lead with 9:48 left in the second, but Denver’s success would end there. The Suns quickly answered with a Jared Dudley three-pointer and continually built upon that lead for the final 33 minutes of play.
After the Nuggets cut an 11-point halftime deficit to eight early in the third quarter, the Suns wouldn’t budge. In fact, they built their lead to 16 at the end of three and led by as many as 22 in the fourth quarter.
Phoenix held Denver to 44.3 percent shooting from the field, 28.6 percent from three (4-of-14) and even won the rebounding battle, 47-39. The Suns defended the paint, rebounded the basketball, took care of the ball, and found good shots on offense.
“I will give Phoenix credit,” Nuggets head coach George Karl told Suns.com. “I think it was one of their better defensive games against us. I think they gave Kenyon and Chauncey good defensive reads and we could never get into a good offensive strong flow.”
Amare Stoudemire was everywhere. He pounded the glass, rotated on defense, and didn’t force anything offensively, en route to a 20-point, 17-rebound, two-block performance — 18 and 14 of which came in three quarters. STAT has now gone for at least 20-10 in his last three games, averaging 27.0 points and 13.3 rebounds during that stretch.
The trade rumors that Stoudemire admitted affected his play at first seemingly fueled the big man, not only tonight, but all throughout this road trip. As soon as the Suns hit the road, STAT went into beast mode. For every game that he goes for one rebound in 27 minutes, he has one of these nights. The inconsistency is painful, but there is no question how dominant he can be when his mind is in the right place.
But Amare wasn’t the only Sun who shined bright tonight. Jason Richardson played about as hard as I have ever seen him in a Suns uniform, resulting in 20 points and seven rebounds in a game-high 41 minutes — making the Suns 14-2 when he scores 20 or more. He was getting after it on the boards as well as defensively, and even flexed his muscles on the block with some post moves.
Steve Nash was Steve Nash (17 points and 10 assists), Channing Frye was locked in (5-of-9 in 28 minutes), but this was a team win for the Suns. They looked focused, determined and played some of the most disciplined basketball I have seen from the purple and orange all season.
Shooting 9-of-18 from distance obviously didn’t hurt, but the Suns were extremely efficient in the halfcourt. It is much easier to get stops defensively when you make yourself tough to defend on offense, and the Suns did exactly that. They were patient offensively, at least by Suns standards, and it paid dividends.
On the defensive end, Phoenix forced Denver into tough shot after tough shot, and the Carmelo-less Nuggets were unable to mount a comeback. The Suns limited Chauncey Billups to 11 points and four assists on 5-of-14 shooting and didn’t allow any Nugget to score more than 15 points.
Yes, this is the Phoenix Suns we’re talking about.
The Nuggets did look out of sync and lethargic, but part of that has to be to the Suns’ credit. This is a Denver offense that ranks No. 3 in the NBA in points per game (107), No. 3 in three-point percentage (.375) and No. 8 in field-goal percentage (.470).
Phoenix held the Nuggets under all of those season averages, and it resulted in a convincing victory. The offense was clicking, the defense was swarming — by Suns standards — rebounding was a strength, and Phoenix proved what it can do when those three things come together.
The Nuggets were 10-1 in their previous 11 games and the Suns were playing their third game in four days, but none of that mattered, as Phoenix came into Denver and manhandled the Western Conference’s second-best team. If the Suns keep playing this way, it will be hard for teams not to consider them a realistic threat come playoff time.
- The Suns’ current four-game win streak ties a season best. The Suns have a great chance of turning that four into five when they take on the Kings in Sacramento Friday night.
- The Suns finished with six players in double figures and got 35 points from their bench.
- Robin Lopez got into some foul trouble and Frye was hot, but the second-year seven-footer still finished with 11 points and seven rebounds in only 18 minutes. That is exactly the type of production the Suns need from him.
- Phoenix won its third consecutive road game tonight. The last and only other time the Suns won three consecutive road games was during a stretch from Nov. 6 -9 when they beat the Celtics, Wizards and 76ers in succession.