The Nuggets made the decision look brilliant in the first quarter.
Even with early foul trouble to reserve centers Robin Lopez and Louis Amundson, the Suns outscored the Nuggets, 35-26, in the first quarter after the Nuggets handed out just two assists on eight made field goals in the first twelve minutes. Adding insult to injury insult was how 22 of the Suns’ 35 first quarter points came by way of either a field goal inside of ten feet of the goal or by made free-throws due to the Nuggets being out of position defensively.
The interior buffet didn’t stop until over seven minutes into the second quarter as all but two of Phoenix’s first 22 points came by way of, once again, very short field goals or made free-throws. In fact, it wasn’t until Steve Nash drained a long three-pointer with just 13 seconds remaining in the half that the Suns scored on anything BUT the aforementioned as the only other deuce of the quarter came on a 20-foot jumper by Jared Dudley in the first two minutes.
Luckily, the Nuggets were able to find some continuity after falling behind by 14 points, 53-39, after Grant Hill tipped in a Steve Nash miss with five minutes to play in the half. Nene got the Nuggets started with a lay-up on a great feed from Chauncey Billups that led to an 11-0 Denver run over the next 3:45 minutes. Much of this run was due to the Nuggets kick starting their fast break on several Phoenix miscues with Linas Kleiza being the beneficiary of two easy dunks and Kenyon Martin flushing a very heady dish from LK to help trim the Phoenix lead to three, 53-50, and under two minutes until halftime.
The Nuggets were very for fortunate to be trailing by six at the half with all things considered. Denver was murdered in the paint in the first half as the Suns were shooting 52% from the field despite connecting on only 4-12 from the land of plenty. On the other end of the floor, the Nuggets had done an admirable job weathering a poor shooting first quarter starting the game 8-23 from the field and rebounded slightly in the second to finish the half 18-44 shooting including a dismal 2-9 from downtown. Once again, this improvement was mainly due to getting easy hoops on the fast break as the Nuggets outscored the Suns 20-2 in transition in the first half.
The second half speech by George Karl included controlling the paint by upping the defensive intensity and not settling on the other end of jump shots, and the Nuggets definitely heeded his message.
Denver quickly erased Phoenix’s six-point halftime lead with four of their first six points coming quickly and by way of crisp passing from J.R. Smith to Kenyon Martin for easy dunks. The first slam from Kenyon came from a very sneaky behind the back pass from Smith on the right baseline before Martin came up with a great one-on-one pickpocket on Steve Nash and Smith rewarded him for running the floor by giving him back the ball for another dunk. Smith and Martin weren’t done yet as a monster rejection by Kenyon on Jason Richardson on the next defensive possession went ricocheting off the glass setting up J.R. Smith for a three on the other end. Kenyon then finished yet another great pass from Smith to give Denver a four-point lead, 67-63, before the tandem hooked up one more time with Smith being the finisher on a run out dunk after a steal by K-Mart! The duet combined to score eleven of Denver’s first 13 points as the Nuggets outscored the Suns 13-1 in the first 3:12 of the second half.
The icing on cake was Kenyon Martin connecting on a long two-pointer and Smith stealing the ball from Nash at half court and finishing the deed with a scrumptious windmill to extend Denver’s lead to eight points, 77-69, on back-to-back plays.
However, after Denver came roaring back in dramatic fashion, Phoenix quietly had regained the lead, 82-80, after two made free-throws by Leandro Barbosa with just over a minute remaining before the third ended knotted at 82 apiece.
J.R. Smith and Kenyon Martin carried over their third quarter chemistry by getting the Nuggets the first bucket in the fourth quarter on a dunk by K-Mart on a Prodigy dime. Denver then lost the lead after consecutive buckets by Grant Hill, but the relentless (even to a fault on a few occasions) onslaught of effort by J.R. Smith boosted the Nuggets to a four-point lead, 92-88. After taking the kind of quick three that makes George Karl’s blood boil, Smith came up with great steal in the passing lane and set up the L-Train finishing with two hands. Kleiza then stroked a very clutch trey on a heads-up recognition of his hot hand by Chauncey Billups with under seven minutes remaining. Phoenix then went empty on their next nine consecutive trips as the Nuggets steadily built an eight-point lead, 96-88, before an 8-0 run by the Suns tied the game at 96.
Back and forth, the game tied again at 103 with under 1:30 to play after Kenyon Martin rebounded his own miss from the left baseline setting up J.R. Smith for three from the same corner. Both teams came up empty on their next possession, but an offensive rebound for Phoenix gave them the ability to ideally win the game or send it to over time with the shot clock off and 17.4 seconds remaining. Coming out of the timeout, Steve Nash deferred to Grant Hill for the final shot, but Hill lost control of the ball when Nene stepped up to help Dahntay Jones.
Denver struck first with Chauncey hitting a jumper and that set the tone for Mr. Big Shot to take over overtime as he scored five of the Nuggets first seven points and found Kenyon Martin for an acrobatic lay-up to put the Nuggets up by seven, 112-105, with under two minutes to play. Kenyon Martin then drove the dagger into the heart of the Suns with a cold-blooded three-pointer from the top of the arch! The huge three and “brass balls” celebration by Kenyon gave the Nuggets a six-point lead with under 30 seconds remaining and cemented the eventual, 119-113, Denver win.
Kenyon Martin’s second half was the kind of performance that you tell your kids about. After scoring just six points and grabbing two rebounds in the first half, K-Mart finished with 24 points, eight rebounds, and a career-high seven steals. He and J.R. Smith were the energy that propelled Denver to this victory with their duet of complimentary plays in the second half combining for 34 of the Nuggets 63 points after halftime. Smith finished with 19 points, seven assists, and five rebounds after a sluggish start of only three points in the first half.
And if Martin and Smith were the horsepower Chauncey was the driver behind the wheel. Mr. Big Shot commandeered the Nuggets with a team-high 26 points and eight assists which included a 13-14 performance from the charity stripe. Nene’s game-high 14 rebounds and 17 points, and LK’s 18 points off the bench rounded out things for the Nuggets. Up next for the 27-13 Nuggets is the last game of this seven-game home stand of which they are currently 5-1 and 3-1 without Carmelo.
I hope Shaq is well-rested for tomorrow night in Minnesota, Phoenix. Maybe it’s time for the Big Cactus to think about hanging it up if he can’t handle the NBA game night-in and night-out anymore…