As they did against the LA Clippers last Wednesday, the Nuggets entered tonight’s contest with a healthy starting five and a full roster of players available. It’s a roster they hoped would take them back to the brink of a Finals appearance and convince Carmelo Anthony to reconsider staying in Denver when he saw how good a healthy Nuggets squad could be. With the worst defensive team in the league holding them to 20 points and taking a 12 point lead after one quarter, it was hard to avoid the grim feeling that hope for this fractured squad was absurd.
Not so fast. After a no-effort start with mixed results trying to go to Nene early, the Nuggets had nothing going for them except Arron Afflalo. They quickly fell behind by double digits and throughout the early second quarter Carmelo Anthony got aggressive and was able to keep it a semi-respectable game. At about the ten minute mark of the second, coach George Karl called for a lineup of Arron Afflalo and four subs – Ty Lawson, JR Smith, Al Harrington and Birdman. The Nuggets raced back from a double digit deficit and never looked back. After falling behind 32-18, the Nuggets then went on a 84-40 run to lead 102-72 after three. Game over
The story of the game was undoubtedly the game-changing play of Ty Lawson and Arron Afflalo, who had a career night. While Chauncey Billups struggled to control tempo or establish any flow in the offense, Lawson immediately turned the game into a fast-paced frenzy that sparked Denver’s energy on defense. He spearheaded Denver’s best quarter of the year, a 44-23 dismantling of Phoenix highlighted by a marvelous effort on defense. Ty used his speed to get whatever he wanted, finishing with 16 points on 5 shots, making 7 out of his 8 attempts from the line. While Ty played 24 minutes total, he only needed about his first 15 to avert a potential disaster and turn the tide completely in Denver’s favor.
Arron Afflalo played big against Phoenix, routinely bullying bigger Suns in the paint on his way to 9 rebounds. During a stretch of the second and third quarters he made 10 straight shots and was Denver’s most consistent offensive threat, finishing with a career high 31 points on 11-14 shooting and 7/7 at the line. Amidst an incredible shooting performance, his best play may have been a beautiful stuff of Jared Dudley’s jump shot forcing a 24 second violation. Playing hard on both ends of the floor, it was simply the best game of his career, an act we are getting used to him pulling in Denver.
From there, the Nuggets released their pent-up frustrations and played hard throughout what was a demoralizing loss for the Suns. Although the Phoenix bench couldn’t measure up against Denver, they seemed to get rattled and lose their will after falling behind, and collectively never fought back. Goran Dragic suffered mightily at the hands of Ty Lawson and engaged him in a physical throw-down all night. Both players exchanged hard fouls on one another, with Kenyon Martin getting involved in one of them and getting himself a technical.
Although the Suns are league-worst in defensive efficiency and were without their best two-way player in Grant Hill, the Nuggets fell in a dark hole early and nearly begged to be thrown deep into the abyss. The way in which they banded together to fight out of it in such impressive fashion showed heart and a testament to the rarely seen potential toughness in this roster.
Additional Game 37 Nuggets
- Chris Andersen played a 7 minute stretch in the 1st-2nd quarters, and didn’t get back on the floor again. Either his knee isn’t all the way back yet, or his porous defense is beginning to wear coach Karl’s patience thin
- Kenyon looked quicker and more explosive than he has in previous starts this year. Although he played 20 minutes, he likely could have been called on for more had the game been more competitive.
- Carmelo kept the Nuggets afloat as the Suns were running away with the game, getting a heavy chorus of boos in the process. He seemed to acknowledge the awkward position fans have been put in all year and shrugged it off. With the Nuggets in control of the game he scored at will in the 3rd quarter en route to an easy double double, 28 points and 10 rebounds and only one turnover.
- The Nuggets finally won a fourth quarter, 30-28. Though it was largely meaningless, the Nuggets have been a terrible fourth quarter team and outscored in 11 of their past 17 games in the fourth
- Nuggets record 30 assists for the first time all year. They average 20.5 per game on the year