The Denver Nuggets came into Phoenix winless in their last 11 tries and walked out with another loss despite having a 15-point lead early. The Suns easily could have rolled over and used the "second of a back-to-back" excuse, but they kept fighting and clawed their way to the win. This was the most impressive win of the season so far just based on the grit and determination the Suns showed.
The Nuggets were shooting 50 percent at the end of the half and finished with 41.6 percent. The Phoenix defense held Denver to 11-of-37 shooting in the second half. Suns coach Alvin Gentry recognized the defense his team played against the normally high-scoring Nuggets.
"I keep standing up here and talking about Channing Frye's defense; he is doing such a good job for us. As far as team defense, this was probably the best win we have had in a long, long time from a total team defensive situation," Gentry said.
On the other side of the court, Nuggets head coach George Karl was very critical of his team's offense.
"That should be the headline: Pass The Damn Ball. Trust the pass and play the game ... We did a lot of good things, but if we're not going to share the ball then we've got to play much better defense than what we played," Karl said.
The Suns defense in the first half, and especially in the second quarter, was exposed in its weak middle by Nene and Al Harrington. They each had 11 points and combined to take 17 shots. In the second half, the Nuggets went away from their bigs and the two combined for only seven field goal attempts. This fact did not go unnoticed by Harrington.
"It's frustrating. We found a recipe that would help us win the game and we went away from it. That's just us," he said about his team's offense that reverted to an isolation-oriented selfish game.
In a game that had six Suns players in double-figures, it was the guy who finished with nine that was the star. Hedo Turkoglu built on his big shot against the Lakers with a strong fourth quarter performance on both ends of the floor, including key blocks on Chauncey Billups and Carmelo Anthony and another big three to secure the win. He finished with just nine points, seven rebounds and three assists, but controlled the game with Nash resting on the bench. The Suns were led in scoring by Hakim Warrick's 21 points.
"Tonight, he put me as a three (small forward) and give me the ball (so) that I can play a lot of pick-and-roll and do the things that I'm good at and thank God it worked out for me and for the team, too, and we get a win," Turkoglu said about his performance that ended up leading the team in plus/minus with a +16.
The game had a sloppy and slow feel for the first quarter, with Denver first to awaken in the second and take a 12-point lead into the half. The Suns showed their determination and the kind of grit that Amare Stoudemire is missing on his new team and battled back in the third quarter, cutting the lead to two before falling behind seven going into the final stanza.
In the fourth, Turkoglu took over and the Suns repeatedly exploited the Nuggets' switching defense to find Warrick in the post against a smaller defender. Warrick was not known at a low post scorer and his prowess in the paint has even surprised coach Gentry.
Warrick insists it's always been part of his game, "In Syracuse, that's where I made my living, in the post. So whenever I got down there, especially when there's a smaller guy, I try and make them pay for putting a smaller guy on me."
The Suns survived a 20-point, 22-rebound performance from Carmelo Anthony, who set a career-high in boards. The Suns defensive game plan against the league's top scorers like Melo is to keep them off the line. Anthony had free throw attempts and needed 19 shots from the field to score his 20 points. That kind of inefficiency keeps the ball out of other players' hands and is very effective when the Suns don't give up too many offensive rebounds. The Nuggets had 16 second chance points compared to 15 for the Suns.
The Suns now travel to Miami for a game Wednesday against the Heat and then to Orlando on Thursday to face the Magic.