The Phoenix Suns fell to the fiery Denver Nuggets 108-93 on Monday night at US Airways Center.
Denver’s fast-paced brand of basketball served them well on both sides of the floor vs. a Phoenix team that has struggled turning the ball over late in games.
“I think we ran more in the second half,” Kosta Koufos said. “Our guards did a great job of penetrating the lane and dishing off and we give them credit for that and that’s why we’re so good this year, because our guards are so fast and they can penetrate.”
The Nuggets ultimately sealed the Suns’ fate in the fourth quarter as five Denver players finished with double digits. Corey Brewer closed the game with 20 points. Ty Lawson ended with 19 points and six assists. Kenneth Faried added 10 points and nine rebounds, while Wilson Chandler contributed 11 points and six rebounds. Perhaps the most notable performance was Koufos’ 22 points and 10 rebounds considering Phoenix’s recent ailments at the center position.
“Seventy-four points in the paint. That sums up the entire game. They dominated us driving the ball,” Suns interim coach Lindsey Hunter said. “They are a good team and we did a good job of staying close but they just tightened the screws and pulled away from us.”
Denver has now won nine-consecutive games with this victory against Phoenix. The Suns currently stand 9-14 under Hunter.
The opening quarter became a two-man scoring show, wherein Phoenix narrowly led 26-25 over Denver. The Suns’ Marcus Morris began the game like a man possessed with 10 quick points. However, the Nuggets’ Koufos responded in-kind with a scoring frenzy of his own, particularly in the low post. Astonishingly, no other Nuggets player scored until just over five minutes to go in the first. Koufos’ early 13 points unwaveringly took advantage of the Suns principal area of concern entering this matchup. With Marcin Gortat and Jermaine O’Neal ruled out, Phoenix’s diminished depth at center was the fundamental issue heading into the subsequent quarter.
Denver surpassed Phoenix with a 53-50 lead after an energizing second quarter. The Nuggets accounted for 12 assists, no blocks, eight fast break points and 22 rebounds. The Suns accrued 15 assists, three blocks, two fast break points and 20 rebounds. Both teams accumulated six steals and eight turnovers. Koufos led the game with 15 points and four rebounds heading into the third. Denver fueled their pre-halftime surge following a jaw-dropping half-court alley-oop pass from Lawson to Faried.
The Nuggets continued to slowly separate the scoring margin with an 80-74 lead in the third quarter. Although the Suns persistently struggled to defend Koufos, four additional Denver players established a high-octane rhythm in the second half. While Lawson, Faried and Chandler all entered double figures, Brewer facilitated the charge with 19 points in 21 minutes.
“Once we get running and getting into our groove, we’re tough to beat,” Brewer said. “It’s all about playing defense. Once we get stops and make them miss, we can run.”
The Nuggets put a stamp on this matchup with an emphatic fourth-quarter JaVale McGee alley-oop dunk similar to the viral video of Los Angeles Clippers’ DeAndre Jordan and his dunk on Detroit Pistons’ Brandon Knight.
Denver finished shooting 51 percent from the field, 68 percent from the foul line and 25 percent from the 3-point line. The Nuggets overall had 25 assists, two blocks, 22 fast break points, 45 rebounds, 12 steals and 14 turnovers.
“Kosta has a great understanding of how to get underneath a defense when the defense makes mistakes,” Nuggets coach George Karl said. “He probably had three or four putbacks tonight, he’s gaining confidence by doing the little things of playing basketball. He and JaVale [McGee] give us two guys than can have big nights.”
Phoenix ended the night shooting 42 percent from the field, 77 percent from the free-throw line and 30 percent from 3-point range. The Suns totaled 25 assists, five blocks, 11 fast break points, 43 rebounds, 11 steals and 18 turnovers.
In spite of the loss, Wesley Johnson ended with 18 points. Marcus Morris followed closely behind with 16 points. Hamed Haddadi collected 13 points and eight rebounds, while Jared Dudley finished with 12 points.
The Suns will proceed by traveling to the Toyota Center hoping to repeat their 107-105 win over the Houston Rockets from March 9. The Nuggets, on the other hand, will look to assemble a tenth-straight win as the team faces the New York Knicks in Denver. Both teams are scheduled to play their upcoming games on March 13.