Murray’s massive night eclipses Suns in Phoenix

Denver Nuggets guard Jamal Murray (27) shoots against the Phoenix Suns during the first half at Talking Stick Resort Arena
Dec 29, 2018; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Denver Nuggets guard Jamal Murray (27) shoots against the Phoenix Suns during the first half at Talking Stick Resort Arena. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

In their last game of 2018, the Denver Nuggets walked away with a 122-118 victory over the Phoenix Suns.

The Nuggets close the calendar year with a record of 23-11, which is good for first place in the Western Conference. Through 34 games, the Nuggets still sit atop the standings and continue to have a major amount of success within their own conference. With their win over Phoenix, the Nuggets now have a 15-6 record against Western Conference opponents this season, which is the best mark of any team in the West.

On the second night of a back-to-back, the Nuggets were looking to pick up another victory after they beat the San Antonio Spurs just 24 hours prior. Denver already received some great injury news before the game as Jamal Murray and Malik Beasley were available to play after suffering injuries the night before. The good news kept on coming as Paul Millsap was also available to play in his first game since missing eight straight with a right big toe injury.

With Denver already receiving a ton of great news pregame, all that was left was to go out and win the basketball game. The Nuggets did just that as they opened the game on fire offensively with eight straight points to start the night. Six of those points came courtesy of two threes from Murray, who showed no ill effects of the injury he suffered the night before. Murray ended up having eight of Denver’s first 14 points as the Nuggets jumped out to a six-point lead with 6:28 left in the opening quarter.

That was just the start of Murray’s big first quarter as he finished with 13 points on 4-of-6 shooting from the field and was a scorching 3-of-4 from three-point range. Murray’s play was the spark Denver’s offense needed as everyone was playing at a high level, which was a big reason why the Nuggets held a 36-16 lead at the end of the first quarter. As a team, the Nuggets shot 13-of-21 from the field in the first and did a great job distributing the ball as they finished the quarter with 11 assists.

As great as the Nuggets offense was in the first quarter, their defense was just as impressive. The Suns shot just 6-of-20 from the field in the opening period as the Nuggets complimented their offense with even better defense. That recipe remained the same to start the second quarter as Denver began the period on an 8-4 run that was sparked by the hot shooting of Beasley. Just like with Murray, Beasley showed no ill effects of the injury he suffered on Friday night as he had 12 early points. Those points all came from behind the three-point line as Beasley opened the game 4-of-6 from distance.

It only took a few minutes before Beasley hit another triple, which was his fifth of the first half to give him a career high for triples made in a single game. Beasley’s career high from three was a big reason why the Nuggets still held a commanding 52-34 lead with 4:26 left in the first half. Almost everything was going right for the Nuggets, but one thing they did struggle with was trying to stop Suns big man Deandre Ayton. The Suns rookie sensation poured in 24 points in the second quarter and single handily kept the Suns in the game. Ayton’s big second quarter was still not enough to cut Denver’s lead to single digits though as the Nuggets led 62-49 after two periods of play.

A big three from Juancho Hernangomez at the halftime buzzer allowed the Nuggets to stop the bleeding as Ayton’s big quarter allowed Phoenix to get back into the game at halftime. Still, the Nuggets led by 13 after Murray (21) and Beasley (15) combined for over half the Nuggets points in the first half. Another player who had a big two quarters was Nikola Jokic, who was on triple-double watch going into the second half with eight points, five rebounds, and four assists.

After being outscored by seven points in the second quarter, the Nuggets got back on track to start the third as Murray continued to lead the way for Denver offensively. In the opening minutes of the third quarter, Murray was on fire after hitting his sixth triple of the night off an insane step-back jumper.

At the 5:55 mark of the third quarter, Murray already had 28 points on 10-of-15 shooting from the field to go along with his seven assists and four rebounds. Murray was not just scoring the ball as he was disturbing it just as effectively, which is why Denver had a 83-60 lead at the midway point of the third. Phoenix was not done battling though as they closed the third quarter on an 18-7 run to cut the Nuggets lead down to 12 as the two teams headed to the final period of play.

With the Nuggets taking a 90-78 lead into the fourth quarter, it was going to take a big period from the Suns to complete the comeback victory. Denver had no intentions of the Suns comeback becoming a reality as the Nuggets began the fourth on a 7-0 run as Murray continued to light up the nets in Phoenix. Coming into tonight’s game, the most three-pointers Murray ever made in an NBA game was six, which he easily beat with his eighth three of the night just seconds into the fourth quarter.

At the 10 minute mark of the fourth quarter, Murray was up to 36 points as the Nuggets held a 22-point lead and were in complete control of the game. Just like they had done all night though, Phoenix answered with a quick run of their own, but Murray was not going to let the Suns back into the game. After hitting his ninth three of the night at the 4:03 mark of the fourth, Murray was up to 43 points as the Nuggets lead was back up to 13.

The Suns would not go away though as they continued to fight and ultimately cut the Nuggets lead down to 111-104 with 3:05 left in the game. There was still plenty of time for Phoenix to make a comeback as the Suns cut Denver’s lead down to three with 1:34 remaining in the game. Just like he had done all night through, Murray was there to answer the call with two big free-throws to help Denver stretch their lead back up to five with just over a minute remaining.

All the Nuggets needed was a couple defensive stops if they wanted to spoil the Suns comeback chances, which is exactly what they did. A few stops and a couple free-throws later is all Denver needed as they held on to walk out of Phoenix with a 122-118 victory.

Stat leaders for the Nuggets were Murray, who had a career night offensively with 46 points on an efficient 16-of-24 shooting from the field, 9-of-11 from three-point range. Murray also dished out eight assists and hauled in six rebounds in route to one of the best performances of his young career. Other stat leaders for the Nuggets were Beasley, who poured in 15 points off the bench on an extremely efficient 5-of-9 shooting from three. Another stat line of note came from Jokic, who had a solid night finishing with 23 points, nine assists, and eight rebounds.

Denver now has two days off before they are back in action at home on Tuesday night to face the New York Knicks.