EMPIRE OF THE SUNS

Suns survive 4th-quarter woes for upset OT win vs. Nuggets

Mar 5, 2024, 10:49 PM | Updated: 11:12 pm

Bradley Beal #3 of the Phoenix Suns makes a pass against Zeke Nnaji #22 of the Denver Nuggets at Ba...

Bradley Beal #3 of the Phoenix Suns makes a pass against Zeke Nnaji #22 of the Denver Nuggets at Ball Arena on March 5, 2024 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Jamie Schwaberow/Getty Images)

(Photo by Jamie Schwaberow/Getty Images)

It sure wasn’t pretty but the Phoenix Suns clawed through another wonky fourth quarter to win in overtime over the Denver Nuggets 117-107, with the victory on Tuesday coming on the night Phoenix was the biggest underdogs it had been in Vegas all season (+9).

Without Devin Booker (right ankle sprain) again, the Suns were in a great position to win after an outstanding second quarter but there wasn’t enough execution in the second half to fully down a vulnerable Denver squad after leading by 15 at the half.

Tuesday’s fourth quarter was by no means a basketball clinic but Phoenix just missed a ton of shots before the usual lack of pace within the offense via attacking the defense too late in the shot clock resulted in bad possessions. The Suns shot 5-of-24 (20.8%) and the combination of Kevin Durant (2-of-9) and Bradley Beal (2-for-7) made up for most of that on shots they’ll look back on in the film and mostly be OK with. Denver wasn’t trading baskets, either, producing just 21 points to keep leaving the door open.

The script was certainly trending toward a Nuggets win for most of the second half but Durant nailed a bail-out 3 with 26 seconds left to tie the game and send it to OT. Critically, Jusuf Nurkic fouled out late in the fourth quarter, putting Drew Eubanks against Nikola Jokic in overtime.

But Durant and Beal responded emphatically, with Durant knocking down all three of his attempts in the extra period while Beal was 2-for-2 as well.

Durant was 14-of-34 in 44 minutes for 35 points, eight rebounds and five assists while Beal shot 6-for-18. Phoenix winning this game despite that tells you how weird this game was if you weren’t able to watch it yourself.

Phoenix found a level defensively it hasn’t reached in the last handful of games at a perfect stretch of the game, jumping all over a sluggish Denver with a 23-1 run across 6:16 of the second quarter. For whatever reason, the Nuggets were ready to fold when presented with the pressure, looking completely disoriented while Phoenix commanded the game. You don’t need two hands to count how many times the Suns have hit that gear defensively this year, but in the theme of the season thus far, it again shows they are capable of reaching it.

The Suns were up 15 at halftime with 18 assists on 23 made field goals and just four turnovers. Again, which was largely set up by the defense letting them play off giveaways and misses.

From this point on, though, the night would be determined by if Phoenix could avoid its fatal flaw of either one or multiple awful stretches of only just a few minutes that can submarine its chances of winning a game.

For the most part, the third quarter avoided any of that. But at the 3:23 mark, Nurkic picked up his fifth foul after doing an awesome job on Jokic and once again functioning as the key cog within the Suns’ offense. He went to the bench with Phoenix up 13 and returned at 5:02 remaining and the lead cut to six.

That was after a bizarre three minutes when both teams repeatedly missed good looks from 3-point range over a stretch that made up some of the 4:14 Phoenix was scoreless for.

And then after Beal knocked down a 3 with 3:54 remaining to put the Suns up nine, every Suns possession after that except the last one of the period ended with either a miss or turnover by Beal or Durant. That allowed a 12-0 Denver run before the aforementioned Durant 3.

It was indeed not a good night for Beal, but for the second straight game he was actively trying to get to the paint every time he was touching the ball. That’s the pressure on the defense Phoenix not only needs without Booker but especially when he’s back. It’s a different skill set that makes the offense that much more dangerous.

Grayson Allen snapped out of his shooting funk in a big-time way by knocking down the first eight 3s he attempted and finished with 25 points. Eubanks played some of his best minutes of the season as an active body on the glass, with eight rebounds, a few of which were pivotal tip-outs to extend offensive possessions.

This was a bad Jokic outing to his standards, with seven turnovers to just five assists. He still managed 25 points, 16 rebounds and five assists. Jamal Murray was the guy for Denver with 28 points.

Phoenix only had 10 turnovers. A few of the sloppy ones beyond the 3-point line that roll out the red carpet for the opposition’s transition offense were still there, particularly in the second half when the game began to slightly unravel, but the number was progress after a rough weekend in Phoenix.

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