The Denver Nuggets defeated the Phoenix Suns 134-111 Wednesday at Pepsi Center. The Nuggets trailed by six points at halftime but created separation thanks to a big third quarter. Here are five observations from the game.
1. Gary Harris comes out guns blazing
After Denver fell flat in the second half against the 76ers on Saturday, Gary Harris admitted to feeling fatigued. The Nuggets' versatile shooting guard logged heavy minutes toward the end of December, and it was wearing on him. Harris got three days off after the Philadelphia game. Apparently, it did him wonders.
He exploded out of the gates against the Suns, scoring 20 points and sinking nine of the 10 shots he attempted in the first quarter. Harris, who came into the game shooting 71 percent at the rim, according to Cleaning the Glass, did most of his damage inside.
"I think you have to remember that he is a former All-American high school football player," Nuggets coach Michael Malone said when asked about Harris' finishing ability. "He could’ve gone anywhere in the country to play football. He’s not going to shy away from contact. He’s a tremendous athlete. And he’s got really big hands. He’s able to absorb the hit and still finish. His finishing — when he gets going to his right hand downhill, good things usually happen."
Harris took 17 shots. He only missed three of them. He finished with 36 points to tie a career high.
2. Nuggets light it up despite turnovers
The Nuggets didn't play a particularly clean game, but they still managed to score 134 points, their second-highest total of the season. Their offensive showing was a testament to Harris' ultra-efficient night as well as the firepower Denver has on its roster.
Seven Nuggets scored in double figures. Wilson Chandler made seven of the nine shots he took and scored 17. Trey Lyles scored 16 on 11 shots. Will Barton battled the flu and chipped in with 12. Even Malik Beasley (10 points, 4-5 FG) hit the double-digit mark.
Denver finished with 35 assists on 51 makes. It shot 62.1 percent from the floor.
3. Rotation swells
"I don't want trust to be a hollow word," Malone said earlier this week. He was referring to his bench. Toward the end of December, Malone cut his rotation all the way down to seven and a half players. It worked at first, but when the Nuggets fell flat against the 76ers on Saturday, Malone said he knew he needed to readjust.
Readjust he did. Ten Nuggets got into the game against Phoenix in the first quarter alone. During one stretch in the first half, Malone went to an all-reserves lineup. It featured Barton, Beasley, Torrey Craig, Kenneth Faried and Lyles.
Faried earned his first minutes since Dec. 15. He made the only shot he took, which, fittingly, was an alley oop dunk.
Barton, Beasley and Craig all logged double-digit minutes. Faried played seven minutes.
"All the guys that played did a good job in helping us get this win," Malone said. "It was a team win, and I was proud of our guys."
4. Denver defense wakes up in third quarter
The Nuggets shot 64.9 percent in the first half but still found themselves trailing thanks to turnovers and uninspired defense. The Suns scored 41 points in an ugly second quarter.
“I was really direct at halftime," Malone said. "In that second quarter, they shot 76 percent and scored 41 points. That’s embarrassing, and we all should take that personally."
His message was received. In the third quarter, Denver held Phoenix to 5-28 shooting. The Nuggets won the decisive 12-minute stretch 37-18, which put them ahead for good.
Malone's club has been playing better defense since he blasted them on Dec. 6. In their last 13 games, the Nuggets are allowing 104.2 points per 100 possessions — the 10th-best mark in the NBA.
5. The Jokic-Beasley connection
The play of the game happened late in the third quarter. With a little more than a minute remaining in the period, Jokic picked up a deflection and whipped a behind-the-back pass to Beasley, who was streaking up the other side of the floor. Beasley needed only one dribble before he rose up and slammed it.
The sequence, which looked like an obvious SportsCenter Top 10 candidate, was one of a handful of home run plays Jokic and Beasley hooked up on in the win. At the start of the fourth quarter, Jokic lofted a pass the length of the floor to Beasley, who tapped it over to Lyles.
"I tell him every day, 'I'm running. Find me,'" Beasley said. "He always does."