There’s no doubt at least a handful of Suns fans turned off the game at halftime. Phoenix had just turned in one of their worst halves of basketball this season. They were lifeless and flatfooted. They had allowed a season-high 62 first half points, and had trailed by 20 points just 18 minutes into the game. A blowout loss was definitely in the works for the Suns. But there was no quit in this team tonight. The Suns made a fool out of anyone who turned the channel as they dominated the Nuggets in the second half and pulled out 103-99 win on the road.
To say the Suns were cold in the first half is to undersell their futility a great deal. Phoenix couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn in the first 24 minutes. They went into halftime shooting under 38% from the field and trailing by 14 points. The starters looked exhausted and slow, contributing only 19 points. If not for the Morris twins and their 22 first half points, this game would have been over very early. Defensively, the Suns allowed Denver to get into the paint for layups on what seemed like every possession. Phoenix also refused to get back on D in transition. The Suns gave up 36 points in the paint and were outscored on the break 14-1 in the half.
The second half looked to be more of the same until someone lit the fuse on Gerald Green. Green caught serious fire in third quarter hitting four big threes to pull Suns to within 10 points. More importantly Green’s shooting and confidence gave the Suns some much needed belief and energy. That energy carried over to the defensive end as well where the Suns held Denver under 30% from the floor in the third period. It wasn’t a lineup adjustment or change of tactics that helped the Suns play better defense. It was purely and simply effort in the paint and on the boards to keep the Nuggets from getting easy looks. Scoring had come very easily for Denver in the first half, but with the Suns actually putting up a fight, the Nuggets struggled to get open shots.
The final frame was one of the best and most entertaining quarters the Suns have played this year. It started as the Morris show with the twins combining to score the first 16 points of the quarter for the Suns. Their streak was snapped when Ish Smith tied the game at 88 with eight minutes to play. That’s when Goran Dragic got involved. The Nuggets were still battling trying to save face on their home floor, but the Dragon smelled the blood in the water. He scored eight points down the stretch to give the Suns the lead and help them hold on for perhaps their most memorable win of the season. As Markieff Morris (25 points, 6 rebounds) stepped to the free throw line to seal the game with 5 seconds left, Eric Bledsoe, who didn’t play in the fourth until the final three minutes, walked down the court with his arm around Goran Dragic. They were both smiling and laughing. Numbers 1 and 2 were happy because their team had trusted each other, fought back from a terrible half of basketball, and achieved something special. Either that or Bled said something really funny about J.J. Hickson.
For more analysis, let’s answer our three preview questions.
Do the Suns contain Ty Lawson?
Yes, to the extent Ty Lawson can be contained, the Suns contained him. Phoenix held Denver’s speedy, crafty point guard to just 13 points on 3-of-11 shooting and seven assists, both well below his season averages. Lawson, who was recovering from the flu, looked indecisive and passive for long stretches of this game. The Suns’ perimeter defenders – Bledsoe, Dragic, and Smith – did a good job of staying in front of Lawson and making him shoot jump shots. Phoenix’s bigs also did a good job of hedging on pick and rolls to keep Lawson from having a free lane to the basket.
Can Gerald Green break out of his shooting slump?
What shooting slump? Green is still smoldering even now, long after the final buzzer. He finished the night 6-of-12 from downtown (all his attempts were from beyond the arc.) He also added eight rebounds which just goes to show how engaged he was in the game. There are three levels to Gerald Green. The first is when he’s ice cold and no help to the Suns on either end. The second is when he’s feeling it like he was tonight. On this level, Green brings energy on defense too, skying in for rebounds and altering shots in the paint. The third level, which Green hasn’t gone to in a while, is when he’s doing everything in level two as well as getting to the rim both in transition and the half court. We saw plenty of level three Gerald earlier in the year when he was in the starting lineup. After his stellar performance tonight, we may well see it again tomorrow night against Dallas. Green is the sort of player who feeds on the belief of his teammates and coaches. His performance tonight is a testament to their trust in him in spite of his recent slump.
Who wins the rebounding battle?
The Suns lost the battle but won the war. Denver outrebounded Phoenix 53-44 for the game, but much of that deficit was built in the first half. Late in the third quarter and into the fourth, Coach Hornacek went small in hopes of finding the energy to spark a run and cut the deficit. He played Ish Smith alongside Bledsoe to close the third and then next to Dragic in the fourth. This gave the Suns consistent backcourt speed and helped them raise the pace of the game. Phoenix also went small and speedier in the frontcourt keeping Miles Plumlee and Channing Frye on the bench for the entire fourth in favor of the Morris twins. The strategy was successful in that it helped the Suns comeback and play at a pace that gave them the advantage. The only downside was that the small lineup allowed J.J. Hickson to grab 10 boards (three offensive) and drop 9 points, all in the paint. The Suns have shown many times this year however, that losing the battle of the boards is acceptable so long as they can dictate the pace.
Overall this win belongs to the Suns’ bench. The Morris twins, Gerald Green, Ish Smith, and Archie Goodwin outscored the starters 64-39, and led a truly incredible comeback that Suns fans and players won’t soon forget.