Gerald Green carried the Suns offense with a trio of thunderous dunks, and Markieff Morris made the go-ahead put-back. But Phoenix needed everything to go its way after blowing a 14-point first-half lead Tuesday night in Denver, and P.J. Tucker sure as heck helped edge the 50-50 balls in his team’s favor.
The Suns needed overtime to drop the Denver Nuggets 112-107 at the Pepsi Center, and they did so with the pressure on them to begin the post-All-Star schedule with an needed victory.
This was a Denver team limping to the break, playing for pride after losing three prior meetings with Phoenix this year. And it was a must-win for the Suns, especially considering Nuggets guard Ty Lawson and backups Nate Robinson and Andre Miller weren’t available, for differing reasons.
Green scored a career-high 36 points, and Goran Dragic added 21 points and 14 assists.
Yet, it was Tucker knocking the ball off the glass hard on the Suns’ final possession in regulation, then finding Dragic for a fastbreak dunk in overtime that gave Phoenix a 105-103 lead it would hold.
With a minute to play in the fourth quarter, Dragic’s 13th dime of the game came on the third shot attempt of a possession. He found Channing Frye drifting atop the three-point stripe off an offensive rebound, and the swish brought the trailing Suns within 99-97 as 36 seconds remained on the game clock.
Phoenix earned a stop and the ball back with 18 second left. A few off-ball screens got Frye a wide open two-pointer over Randy Foye that would have tied the game, but the rebound was batted off the backboard by Tucker and put back in by Markieff Morris for a tie.
Tucker finished with 13 points and 11 rebounds — but he wouldn’t gain credit for that most important swat of the ball, nor a few others.
It wasn’t always such a close one.
Midway through the first quarter, the Suns had built a 21-7 lead thanks to nine points from Dragic and his two assists for dunks that included a jaw-dropping alley-oop find to Green. But the ability for Hornacek to go early to the bench wasn’t rewarded by the second unit.
Leandro Barbosa sunk in and left the silky-shooting Evan Fournier for a three-pointer before Ish Smith lost the handle to allow Kenneth Faried score on a breakaway dunk.
Suddenly, it was a game.
It was a back-and-forth affair from then on, and Phoenix led just 52-51 at halftime. Dragic controlled the third, sucking in the Denver defense for wide-open three-pointers. At the same time, the Nuggets held the Suns close with their paint scoring that beat up on the small Phoenix front line. Throughout the first 36 minutes, the Nuggets could never completely snag the momentum away from the Suns until they had a one-point advantage heading into the fourth quarter.
Two quick buckets to begin the final quarter, and the Suns trailed 81-76 with 10:26 to play. Gerald Green continued pouring in threes to finish with a 11-for-22 shooting night that included six threes and an 8-of-8 foul shooting evening.
As a team, Phoenix shot just 37.6 from the floor but nailed 37.9 percent of its three-point attempts. Hornacek’s squad lost the points in the paint battle 58-32, yet it held Denver to 38.4 percent shooting and a miserable 5-for-28 from three-point range.
It wasn’t pretty, but it sure was needed to keep up if the playoffs are a realistic gaol.
Now to review Jeff Sanders’ key points in his game preview.
Can the Suns slow down Ty Lawson?
Lawson still wasn’t able to return remains out of action with a broken rib, but he did make a dent on Tuesday with the release of his PETA campaign dubbed “Ink, Not Mink.” Anyhow, the Suns held emergency point guard Randy Foye to zero first-half points.
Foye got going to finish with eight points by the end of the game, but it was Evan Fournier to got going off the bench. The Suns repeatedly treated him as a driver rather than a shooter, and he made them pay, going 8-of-19 to score 25 points.
Avoid the slow start
Phoenix certainly didn’t get off to a slow start — at least, the starters didn’t. The bench unit didn’t take long to lose the lead, and as the game wore on, foul trouble against an aggressive rebounding Denver squad wore on the Suns.
Miles Plumlee fouled out after collecting eight boards, and Markieff Morris did the same after recording a double-double of 13 points and 12 rebounds.
The Tucker flop meter
The red flag from the NBA given to Tucker was a note that he’s put himself amongst the Ginobilis and James Hardens of the world, which is a compliment to his peskiness and savvy but also a sign he’s been quite annoying to his opponents. Tucker was up to his usual tricks, but nothing appeared blatant. And who’s to say Adam Silver will be after him this early in his new gig as commissioner?