PHOENIX – The Suns own the worst three-point defense in the league. The Denver Nuggets didn’t do much with it.
It didn’t matter.
Corey Brewer scored 20 points, and outside of a Ty Lawson three-pointer in the final seconds, the Nuggets went 2-of-11 from long-range on Monday night in a 108-93 win against the Suns at U.S. Airways Center.
Outside of that perimeter production, the Nuggets won the game with a dominating interior scoring threat aided by their speed and athleticism. Denver outscored Phoenix 74-32 in the paint, Kosta Koufos scored a career-high 22 points while missing one of his 11 shots and Ty Lawson turned it on in the second half to pull away from the Suns.
“Everything they got was in transition,” said Wes Johnson, who led the Suns with 18 points. “Our turnovers led to that, and I don’t think we did a good enough job getting back. That’s one of their strengths. They got a lot of easy buckets to push up the lead, and we had to play catch-up from then on.”
Hunter said that he’d try to limit Luis Scola’s minutes at center to avoid strain to the slow-footed power forward. It didn’t help, then, that the starting matchup that put Scola on Koufos went poorly. The former Ohio State Buckeye scored the first 13 points for Denver, and the Nuggets attacked the heart of the Suns’ defense to outscore them 38-16 in the paint in the first half. Phoenix only trailed 53-50 at the half, and at that, shooting just 41.3 percent to Denver’s 51.2 percent.
Before the game, Denver coach George Karl said that the Suns “like to play tight in the paint. They give up a lot of threeballs because of it.”
He added that Lawson, who had scored in the 20s in 11 of his last 13 games, would have to read and react because of it. The size-challenged point guard only had five points at the half all while all of the Nuggets’ five three-point attempts failed to drop. In the second half, he made it a point to attack, especially in transition to keep the Suns decent interior defense from getting set.
“What he was doing is keeping our guard on his hip and keeping him behind him, and making our big make a decision,” Hunter said. “For the most part, he got the best of us doing that.”
Lawson finished with 19 points and six assists, outdueling Goran Dragic, who scored eight and had seven assists and four steals as he took what little the Nuggets gave him.
Heading to the fourth quarter, the Suns trailed 80-74 as Lawson attempted to assert himself in the open court.
But perhaps the biggest piece of Denver’s high-powered offense was Corey Brewer. He scored 20 points as the Nuggets’ only successful shooter. Phoenix held Danilo Gallinari to five points on 1-of-8 shooting and had somehow stayed in the game for the majority of the night despite shooting a good percentage lower than the Nuggets.
“They did a good job getting in transition,” said Jared Dudley, who played his third solid game in a row with 12 points off the bench. “We did a good job containing them from the outside, but we didn’t contain the paint well enough.”
By the end of the game, the Nuggets were still shooting the same percentage as they did in the first half, and Phoenix had not budged much at 41.7 percent. But it was Lawson’s 14 points and four assists in the second half that changed the tide – that attacking nature set the tone for smooth interior passing in transition.
“Seventy-four points in the paint,” Hunter said. “That sums up the entire game. They dominated us, driving the ball. Kosta Koufos, he missed one shot, and I don’t think they ran a play for him.
“They’re a good team,” he added. “I think we did a good job for the most part staying close, but you know, they sort of tightened the screws and pulled away from us. Good teams do that.”
Andre Miller might be an obvious comparison to what Suns rookie point guard Kendall Marshall could become. One of the more underrated guards in the league for some time now, Miller doesn’t always fill the box score, but he’s a widely respected for his game management.
Marshall doesn’t take much offense to the comparison.
“We’re both not the most athletic people in the world,” Marshall said. “Honestly, I was looking forward to playing against him. It’s a player that I watched growing up, and I really respect his game. You could see some of the tricks of the trades he’s learned, and hopefully I can pick (them) up and use in my own game.”
Miller, along with Steve Nash, Jason Kidd and Jose Calderon are among the players who Marshall says he can learn the most from. Against the Nuggets on Monday, one notable play by Miller stuck out in Marshall’s mind of how the crafty veteran has made his style and established one in the NBA.
“In the first half, closest to that bench, he’s coming off a pick-and-roll and I’m trying to push him to our big man who’s sitting there waiting on him,” Marshall said. “All he did was — right before he curled off the screen — he’s dribbling the ball, he bumps me, takes one dribble and pulls up where I can’t contest it.”
Revisiting the 2011 NBA Draft
If there were a miss that Suns fans might be the most willing to complain about from the 2011 draft, Nuggets forward Kenneth Faried would be the most notable one. The Suns’ two draft picks from 2011, Markieff and Marcus Morris, went 13th and 14th overall while the Morehead State product fell to No. 22.
It didn’t help then, that Faried had grabbed nine rebounds before Markieff, who he was mostly matched up against, grabbed his first board. The Morris twins combined for 20 points, six boards and four steals while Faried scored 10 to go with his nine rebounds.
Marcus Morris was second in scoring for Phoenix with 16 points.
After a 10-game hiatus, Hunter allowed Shannon Brown to fly. The shooting guard promptly hit his first shot, an 18-footer straight on.
Shannon Brown was talking to Andre Iguodala when he came into game and I swear Iguodala said, “Why the $#!& haven’t you been playing” #Suns
— Paola Boivin (@PaolaBoivin) March 12, 2013
Said Hunter: “Just wanted to see if – he hadn’t played in a while – if he had it and if he could give us a boost.
The Manimal flies