In the first half, Denver once again played very well against a very good Suns ball club. The Nuggets posted 36 points in the first quarter and another 34 in the second while holding the Suns at the aforementioned distance of five points, 70-65, at the break. In my opinion, a five point lead at halftime for these Nuggets is actually better for the overall mindset of the team than a 25 point lead. My reasoning is big leads usually lead to a lack of intensity from the Nuggets and a big comeback from their opposition. With only a five point lead, the Nuggets were still feeling the need to come out with a sustained attack in the second half.
After intermission, the Nuggets started to round things out offensively. Sure, the Dynamic Duo scored a combined 56 points (Iverson led all scorers with 31), but it was the bench that stepped up to make sure the Nuggets had enough to subdue the Suns. Led by J.R. Smith’s 17, the Denver bench (Eduardo Najera, Linas Kleiza, Smith and Nene) combined for 38 points to outscore the Phoenix bench by four and give the Nuggets that much needed lift.
High drama came in the fourth quarter as the Nuggets lost the lead they had been nursing all night long with just over three minutes remaining after Steve Nash hit a pair of free-throws to put the Suns up by one, 113-112. So, with the final three minutes to play the Nuggets were once again under immense pressure to win. Surely back-to-back losses would have been disastrous to their playoff hopes in this tight of a playoff race with Dallas and Golden State and the Nuggets needed to find a way, any way, to win.
And right on cue, Marcus Camby hit a free-throw line extend jump shot, over the outstretched hand of Shaq, with the shot clock running down to tie the game at 116 and the Nuggets never looked back. To strong chants of defense from the Mile High faithful, the Nugget went on a 10-4 run to put away the Suns and once again put themselves right back into the playoffs.
Carmelo Anthony and Kenyon Martin each grabbed eight rebounds and K-Mart added 18 points on yet another efficient 6-9 shooting. Anthony Carter led the march of dimes for Denver with ten assists while being credited for six steals, Marcus Camby added a team-high eleven rebounds, and both Linas and Eduardo were 2-3 from the land of plenty. And on the Nene watch, Big Brazil recorded another ten minutes of very meaningful playing time while being effective with four points, five rebounds, and two assists.
As I mentioned before, this win puts the Nuggets back into the playoff scenery with the eighth seed thanks to the Warriors losing to the Spurs last night, 116-92. The win also puts the Nuggets only a half game back of the Mavericks in the seventh seed with Dallas and Golden State set to duel tonight in a game that means only good things for the Nuggets seeing how someone in the hunt is going to take the L and fall back a half game (hopefully it’s Dallas because that more directly benefits the Nuggets).