The Suns shot well. Well enough to win in most games.
It was their defense that let them down yet again.
Phoenix dug itself a 19-point deficit but had a chance to tie the game with just seconds remaining in regulation. Unfortunately for them, Steve Nash’s shot, as well as the Suns’ comeback hopes, came up just a bit short, as Denver pulled out the win 138-133.
“You can’t win a game when you don’t guard anybody,” Suns coach Alvin Gentry told Suns.com. “You gotta guard somebody. You gotta guard one person, even if we guard [Denver coach] George Karl. You score 133 and lose a game? That’s ridiculous. They take the ball and drive right in the teeth of our defense anytime they want.”
The most disheartening part of the performance was that Denver did all its damage without its top player, Carmelo Anthony, who left due to flu symptoms after just three minutes.
In his place, the Nuggets bench outscored its Phoenix counterpart 70-48.
As a team, Denver scored 21 second-chance points and nailed 16-of-30 three point attempts while scoring at least 31 points in each quarter.
Phoenix missed its first nine shots of the game and fell into an early 10-0 hole before a defensive three-second technical gave Nash a free throw attempt.
On the ensuing possession, the Suns finally got their first field goal when Hakim Warrick, who started for the first time as a Sun, dove to the rim for an easy slam.
Trailing most of the first quarter, Goran Dragic drilled a three with 14 seconds left in the frame, but Denver’s Gary Forbes answered immediately with a three of his own to give the Nuggets a 13-point lead at the buzzer.
In the second quarter Denver maintained its double digit lead for the majority of the 12 minutes, despite multiple Phoenix mini-runs.
Hedo Turkoglu came off the bench for the first time in the early season to score 13 points on 6-of-9 shooting in the first half, but the forward failed to score the rest of the game.
The half ended the same way the first quarter did with a Denver player, this time J.R. Smith, sinking a three-point shot. Smith finished his night with a season-high 30 points, aided by six three-pointers.
The Nuggets led 68-57 at the break.
The third quarter was much of the same as Denver built its lead up to 16 points mostly on second chance putbacks.
Phoenix could not secure a rebound to save its life and the Nuggets took advantage.
Chauncey Billups made the most of his team’s inside presence and got wide open looks from beyond the arc throughout the quarter. It was Billups’ first game back after missing three games with a sprained ankle. He finished with 25 points and eight assists.
Jason Richardson continued his torrid early season start, scoring a game-high 39 points on 15-of-24 shooting. J-Rich was key in leading the Suns back in the game. He hit clutch shot after clutch shot, but he, along with his teammates, couldn’t get a stop. Richardson finished the night 7-of-10 from beyond the arc.
“Nobody remembers guys having big nights and losing games,” Richardson said. “We’re just giving up too many middle drives, myself included. We know we can score but we can’t just rely on our offense to win games.”
The Suns cut the Denver lead to just one point in the fourth quarter, but they were forced to foul with time ticking away.
After two free throws gave the Nuggets a three-point advantage, Nash missed his attempt to tie the game and Denver secured its sixth consecutive home win.
Earl Barron came off the bench and put in 10 hardworking minutes. He looked a bit lost at times, but for being signed just a few days ago, that’s nothing to worry about.
Barron hauled in seven boards, including three on the offensive end, to go along with four points, two assists and one block.
Not a bad stat line for a guy signed off the street.