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Suns Strokes: Suns unable to overcome 20-point deficit in loss to Nuggets

Phoenix Suns point guard Eric Bledsoe defended by Denver Nuggets' Kenneth Faried. (Associated Press)

PHOENIX — The Phoenix Suns came into Sunday afternoon’s home game following up one of their worst losses of the season Friday to the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Phoenix was outscored 31-10 in the fourth quarter and committed 25 turnovers in the 98-85 defeat.

A desired strong response came for the Suns, but it was only in the third quarter and in the latter moments of the fourth. Denver jumped out to a 63-43 lead at halftime, and despite a 36-point third quarter, Phoenix fell to the Nuggets 120-114.

Eric Bledsoe was not the one at fault. The leader of the Suns gave an admirable effort on both ends of the court, scoring a season-high 35 points and along with Devin Booker, took charge of another comeback effort late in the fourth quarter, bringing the game to within four with under a minute to play.

Tyson Chandler had 10 points and 15 rebounds in his second game back since the passing of his mother. Booker scored 25 of his 30 points in the second half and P.J. Tucker added a season-high 21.

With those great numbers from the starters, Phoenix still couldn’t come away with a win. Brandon Knight shot 2-of-10 from the field in 17 minutes, accumulating zero assists, three turnovers off the bench and was a team-low minus-21. Knight had started the last three games in place of the injured T.J. Warren, but was back on the bench at the beginning of the game Sunday.

The Suns entered the game with the league’s worst assist-to-turnover ratio at 1.15 and while the turnovers were limited, the playmaking instead was the issue. They had only five assists in the first half and finished the game with 11 to 11 turnovers, a 1.00 assist-to-turnover ratio.

Phoenix was not able to take control of the game in large part because of Denver’s Wilson Chandler, who made a big shot for the Nuggets seemingly during every Suns run. All 25 of his points were scored in the final three quarters.

THE GOOD

Eric Bledsoe had a chasedown block for the highlight reel in the second quarter. After a poorly executed handoff to Booker was stolen, Bledsoe sprinted back and soared to swat Chandler’s layup attempt.

Speaking of Bledsoe, the improvement of his three-point shot in his first three seasons with Phoenix was a bright spot. The six-year pro shot 37 percent from deep last season on 4.2 attempts per game as a career 32.9 percent shooter. Bledsoe, however, has not shot the ball well to start this season at 29 percent on 3.9 attempts per game. He looked more in rhythm Sunday, shooting 4-of-8 from the three-point line against the Nuggets.

The Suns were down 20 at halftime, but a barrage of three-pointers in the third quarter brought life to the building and the deficit to four points. Phoenix started with a 17-5 run in the quarter and hit six threes in the opening ten minutes of the quarter.

THE BAD

Phoenix was the team to look sluggish at the start of an afternoon weekend game. Their first four possessions on offense were a Marquese Chriss turnover, a Booker jumper that wasn’t close, a desperation Tucker drive as time expired on the shot clock and a missed floater by Bledsoe. In those two minutes, the Nuggets had a 9-0 lead.

Suns head coach Earl Watson has been consistently mixing up his rotation, and a lineup of Tyler Ulis, Knight, Leandro Barbosa, Dragan Bender and Alex Len started the second quarter. For the second straight start of a quarter, the Nuggets went on a 9-0 run.

Chriss picked up two early fouls and that led to Bender seeing his first extended minutes at power forward. A player like Bender that primarily makes most of his impact off of the box score and defensively has to make his open shots and not commit defensive errors to remain a positive for his team. Bender has done this very well for most of his playing time, but today was not his day. Two missed open looks on offense and a handful of miscues on the other end highlighted one of the 18-year-old’s worst stints off the bench as a Sun in his very young career.

STAT OF THE GAME

At halftime, every player that played for the Nuggets was positive in plus-minus and every player that played for the Suns was negative in plus-minus.

HE SAID IT

“Bench T’s put you on the bench in the second half,” – Watson on Chriss’ technical foul in the first half. Len started the second half over Chriss.

NOTED

– Jared Dudley (left foot) missed his first game of the season. Bledsoe, Knight, Tucker, Len and Chriss are the five Suns players who have played in every game.

– Warren (minor head injury) remained out.

– The Nuggets were without starters Danilo Gallinari (thigh) and Gary Harris (foot), and were also missing Will Barton (ankle), Mike Miller (personal) and Juancho Hernangomez (ankle).

– The Suns had three technical fouls.

UP NEXT

Phoenix has two days off game action before they face off against the Atlanta Hawks at 7 p.m., with pregame coverage starting 30 minutes prior on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM.

Atlanta (10-6) has hit the ground running in the post Al Horford era. His replacement, Dwight Howard, has done the job the Hawks want out of him, averaging 14.1 points per game and 12.9 rebounds per game on nearly 60 percent shooting entering their game Sunday night against the Los Angeles Lakers.

The Suns were 1-1 against the Hawks last season and both games were notable. The first matchup saw former Suns guard Archie Goodwin hit a game-winning three-pointer with 0.1 seconds left in the Jan. 23 98-95 win. Goodwin had one of his best performances in a Suns uniform, scoring 24 points.

In Phoenix’s 103-90 loss to Atlanta on April 5, Chandler tied a franchise record when he grabbed 27 rebounds. Booker led all scorers in the game with 34 points.

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