The Phoenix Suns continued to defy expectations by grabbing their fourth win Friday in their first six games of the season, but there was a moment of panic during the team’s 114-103 win over the Denver Nuggets at US Airways Center.
The Suns went into halftime with a comfortable 64-47 lead, but the team’s starters soon saw that lead evaporate to a feisty Nuggets squad. With 4:30 left in the period, Denver took the lead at 74-72 with point guard Ty Lawson’s three-point play. Denver built an 84-74 lead just over two minutes later, having outscored the Suns 37-10 at that point in the quarter.
After a timeout, the Suns’ bench got the team back in the game. Ish Smith and Marcus and Markieff Morris helped Phoenix close out the quarter on a 10-3 run, putting the team in position to eventually win the contest.
Even though Phoenix won by double digits, head coach Jeff Hornacek was concerned after the game about his squad’s third-quarter meltdown.
“We turned it on again (after Denver re-gained the lead), but it’s almost a dangerous thing to think that you can just turn it on at any time. Sometimes you can; sometimes you can’t,” the coach said.
Hornacek said he told his players that they need to bear down on defense when they get a big lead and “not take time off,” as he said they did in the third quarter.
“I think those are the type of games I don’t know how Pop [San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich] and [former Utah Jazz coach] Jerry Sloan and these guys that have coached forever and ever do it — just to see that you’ve got a big lead and then couldn’t do anything right,” he said.
Suns swingman Gerald Green, who started at shooting guard in place of the injured Goran Dragic, said he thought it was great that the team closed out against the Nuggets, which he called a playoff-caliber squad, but that meltdowns can’t continue to happen.
“I think this team understands that we can’t do that; we can’t give up leads like that, especially in one quarter,” Green said after the game. “We can’t give up that many points in a quarter; that’s something that Coach emphasizes.”
Green, along with Hornacek, praised the team’s bench for helping the Suns get back in the game after the starters relinquished the lead. The second unit was anchored by the Morris twins, who combined for 39 points in the contest, including 22 after the Suns fell to a 10-point deficit in the third.
Starting center Miles Plumlee chalked up the team’s hot-and-cold performance in the game to youth.
“That was crazy. You know, we’re a young team, and I think we’re still learning. When we’re up that much, we’ve got to step on their necks and not let them come back,” the second-year center said. “But I think it was great that our will to win brought us back in the game, so I’m proud of that.”
Green echoed Plumlee’s pride in the team’s fortitude.
“It’s kind of scary to where I think our potential is, and I don’t think everybody realizes what we really can do,” the 27-year-old swingman said. “I think that game by game we’ve surprised each other, like today was a good game for us — to be up, be down, but still have the poise to not give up and not get rattled and come back against a good team.
“Hopefully, this win can help us deep down the line. But I think this team is growing everyday.”