PHOENIX – Jeff Hornacek had been a sideline stalking coach in the last few games. His Phoenix Suns were frustrating to watch, struggling to get plays called in and showing flashes of doing things right then reverting away from what had kept them in the game.
But in a 117-103 win against the Denver Nuggets on Sunday, Hornacek found his seat too cozy to leave.
Very few times did he stand up to chase down the officials, and he wasn’t often tossing his hands up in the air when his Suns flubbed up a simple play.
Denver instead was the frustrating team to watch, especially on the defensive end in allowing Phoenix to shoot 50.5 percent from the field. The Nuggets struggled most with Channing Frye, who broke out of a mighty shooting slump to score 30 points on 12-for-16 shooting.
The weird thing was, he and the Suns starters didn’t need to play in the fourth quarter.
Though the score was close until the Suns’ bench unit of Ish Smith, Leandro Barbosa, Alex Len and the Morris twins put the Nuggets away – that’s seriously a thing that happened – Hornacek’s team seemed in control throughout.
Going up by 14 points after a burst to start the third-quarter didn’t amount to much for the Suns. Despite holding the Nuggets to 30.8 percent shooting in the period, Phoenix actually lost a bit of their 62-56 halftime advantage heading into the fourth quarter leading just 84-79.
Then, a fourth-quarter burst orchestrated by Smith pushed Phoenix over the top.
Here’s how my pregame questions were answered.
Which Nuggets team shows up?
Phoenix started the game on an 8-0 run, validating all the concerns over the Nuggets’ defense. The first half seemed relatively competitive, but both teams were shooting at least 50 percent by halftime.
The Suns committed just five turnovers in each half. They came out of the locker room at halftime on a tear, going on a 9-1 run starting with a Gerald Green three-pointer and three shots at the rim. The 71-57 lead didn’t last as Denver cut it back to five heading to the fourth quarter.
Phoenix started fast and finished even faster, and the result was a significant win in terms of the Western Conference standings.
Who are the second and third scoring options for Phoenix?
Nothing like the Denver Nuggets’ defense to break a player out of a major funk.
The Suns’s usual first option, Goran Dragic, played reasonably within the offense but it was Channing Frye who became the Nuggets’ worst nightmare, scoring 18 first-half points and pumping in four three-pointers. It was the perfect medicine for Frye to play against a defense that had been giving up 119.3 points per game in the last three outings.
Meanwhile, Markieff Morris also beat up the Denver power forward crew. He continued his second-best stretch of the year with 16 points, and brother Marcus scored 10, all in the fourth.
There were a few more storylines in terms of the Phoenix bench unit. Leandro Barbosa scored 13 points to go with four rebounds and three assists in his first game back in U.S. Airways Center as a Sun since the 2010 playoff run. Smith scored seven points, and grabbed seven rebounds. He added five assists as the Phoenix bench outscored Denver 33-24 in the fourth quarter.
And then there was Alex Len. The rookie looked like he was ready to break through two games ago before being ejected in the Nick Young fiasco, and on Sunday he appeared as if he was up to getting fined again. On a fastbreak dunk attempt, he was pulled down by Nuggets guard Nate Robinson and looked like he’d get the boot after getting back up and confronting the feisty point guard.
Instead, Robinson earned a flagrant, and Len scored nine points to go with six rebounds. Four of those boards were offensive. Phoenix had an 8-0 second-chance point advantage in the fourth quarter alone.
How does Dragic and Co. handle Ty Lawson?
On one play in the first half, Dragic picked Lawson’s pocket off questionable screen action and got his body in front of the speedy Nuggets point guard for ¾ court while outrunning him and then finishing at the cup.
Dragic finished with 15 points, six dimes and two steals while needing just 24 minutes on the court. Lawson finished with 17 points and 14 assists but went 6-for-14 from the floor.