|Kenneth Faried, F 27 MIN | 9-13 FG | 0-0 FT | 13 REB | 2 AST | 18 PTS | +22
There’s not much to explain here. Faried dominated the game and yet he only played 26 minutes! Offensively, he continues to get better and better as a legitimate post scorer as well as a guy who can chip in double-digit hustle points any given night. Faried had a great first half in which he still struggled to rebound and stay in front of the Phoenix bigs on pick and rolls, two problems he clearly addressed in the second half to finish with one of his finest performances all season.
|Danilo Gallinari, SF 37 MIN | 5-13 FG | 2-2 FT | 3 REB | 4 AST | 13 PTS | +21
Gallo was better than he has been, but let’s not keep kidding ourselves – Gallinari just isn’t the game-changing force he was earlier in the season. What I found particularly interesting was the fact Gallo missed a ton of easy shots and managed to throw in some lucky ones. It needs to be noted that Gallo was still great defensively, where he completely neutralized Jared Dudley and finished with two steals, two blocks and only one personal foul. With that kind of balance, the lack of scoring output isn’t so bad.
|Kosta Koufos, C 15 MIN | 1-2 FG | 0-0 FT | 4 REB | 1 AST | 2 PTS | +16
It wasn’t a big stats game for Koufos, but his play was brilliant in a crucial third quarter surge that essentially put the game away before Phoenix could get anything going. Koufos was a big part of a starting five that so thoroughly out played Phoenix, he finished the game a +16 in only 15 minutes of action. That’s giving your team high-quality minutes.
|Arron Afflalo, SG 38 MIN | 6-10 FG | 7-7 FT | 3 REB | 3 AST | 19 PTS | +13
Afflalo started extremely slow, taking only two shots in a first half he only managed to score three points. Once he picked things up in the second half, Phoenix did not stand a chance as Afflalo made a play that summed up the game by attacking Nash in transition and smacking him in the face for the and-one layup that essentially became the dagger.
|Ty Lawson, PG 37 MIN | 10-16 FG | 4-4 FT | 4 REB | 10 AST | 29 PTS | +7
One of the finest games of Ty Lawson’s career, who could have easily had his first 30-point scoring game had he not decided to throw in in ten assists to only one turnover for good measure. Phoenix simply could not match up with him and Lawson torched the Suns’ defense from start to finish. When Lawson is aggressive and shoots the ball like he’s capable of, he’s nearly impossible to stop.
|Al Harrington, PF 23 MIN | 4-7 FG | 0-0 FT | 3 REB | 1 AST | 8 PTS | -13
Harrington did his best to carry a bench rotation that just could not build on the momentum created by the starters. It wasn’t the bench’s finest performance despite Harrington’s respectable shooting and his admirable hustle on both sides of the ball, where Harrington gave much better effort than some of his bench counterparts. Big Al wasn’t bad, but expect him and the bench to bounce back in the final three games of the season and start looking a bit more like themselves.
|Andre Miller, PG 28 MIN | 3-8 FG | 2-2 FT | 3 REB | 2 AST | 8 PTS | -6
The Nuggets were fighting Andre Miller just as much as they were the Phoenix Suns. The story of the game was the starters’ complete domination followed by Andre Miller’s lackadaisical efforts to give everything back. As esteemed reader TJ McBride pointed out to me earlier, Miller accounted for five of the Nuggets’ nine turnovers and needed his teammates to carry him through a game he could not manage an honest effort towards winning.
|Corey Brewer, SF 16 MIN | 5-8 FG | 0-0 FT | 2 REB | 2 AST | 10 PTS | +4
Any game in which Brewer scores double-digits while taking fewer than ten shots is a successful one. I loved Brewer’s defensive energy and his ability to pressure the ball, which only makes his extremely limited minutes more frustrating when the ineffective Andre Miller produces less in almost double the playing time. When Brewer has it going like he did against Phoenix, he’s a very disruptive force and someone the Nuggets should not be afraid to ride for longer stretches.
|JaVale McGee, C 19 MIN | 5-10 FG | 1-2 FT | 3 REB | 0 AST | 11 PTS | -9
McGee had a very solid finish after a poor first half. One of the things he really struggled with was Phoenix’s pick and roll game with Nash, which is no doubt one of the reasons George Karl is reluctant to trust him with significant minutes. McGee’s post defense was solid and he made much better decisions in the second half, where his awareness in the pick and roll led to a much improved defensive performance in the deciding third quarter.
Three Things We Saw
- Straight-A Students: As you can tell by the grades, every starter besides Gallinari received an ‘A’ or better. One of the main storylines of the game was the Nuggets ability to capitalize on their superior matchups with the Phoenix Suns. Phoenix was not able to get 38-year old Steve Nash any help in terms of containing Ty Lawson and even a brilliant 13-assist performance from Nash was not enough to get them within striking distance. At this point in the season, it’s clear the Nuggets starters are beginning to develop some nice chemistry and the game probably wouldn’t have ever been close if George Karl was inclined to stick with his starters for longer.
- No Small Frye: Channing Frye went down hard in the first half and left the game with a right shoulder subluxation, which could cause him to miss the final few games of the season. Frye is a role player the Nuggets pursued in free agency back in 2009 and has become a major piece for the Suns as their starting Power Forward. He is rangy four who can draw Faried out of the paint and challenge him to defend the perimeter, which is a big reason Frye’s loss was costly and immediately swung the game in the Nuggets’ favor. With Grant Hill already sitting out due to injury, the Suns were without two key cogs of their rotation and it’s good to see the Nuggets take care of business in a game they had no excuse not to win. Denver is catching another big break tomorrow against Orlando without Dwight Howard and hopefully they’ll be able to capitalize in a similar fashion.
- Playing with Pride: This was far from the Nuggets best effort defensively and their struggles defending the three have been well-chronicled at Roundball Mining Company. Phoenix opened the game shooting five of six from three and the Nuggets came dangerously close to allowing another role player like Shannon Brown to beat them from outside. Thankfully, Brown chucked the Suns out of the game with no remorse and the Nuggets were able to tighten up their perimeter defense enough to come away with a comfortable win despite getting limited contributions out of their bench. The defense of Gallinari, Koufos, and Faried was instrumental to securing a win that clinches Denver’s ninth straight playoff birth and it’s becoming more and more clear that Denver does have the personnel and ability to adjust and play good-enough defense when needed.
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